HB 12-1271 Limitations on Juvenile Direct File
House Bill 12-1271
Rich Jones, Director of Policy and Research
Testimony to House Judiciary Committee
March 8, 2012
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony to you today.
I am Rich Jones, the director of policy and research with the Bell Policy Center. The Bell is a non-partisan, non-profit research and advocacy organization, founded on progressive values and dedicated to making Colorado a state of opportunity for all.
The Bell Policy Center supports HB12-1271 to place limits and safeguards on the ability to directly file charges against youthful offenders in adult courts. It strikes the proper balance between the prosecutors' ability to recommend that certain teenagers be tried as adults with the right of youthful defendants to have a judge make the final determination following a court hearing. This bill recognizes the large body of research showing that prosecuting teens as adults makes it less likely they will be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.
Teenagers who commit crimes have made mistakes that could significantly alter the trajectory of their lives and that of their victims. It may be appropriate in some cases to prosecute youths as adults because of the severity of the crime committed or their history of criminal behavior. However, we should do so very carefully and only with safeguards in place to ensure that all factors are considered and that our actions are appropriate to the specific case in question. We do not need to compound the tragedy caused by the crime by severely limiting youths' ability to amend for their mistakes and to live productive lives when released from custody.
Research on Brain Development
Recent neuroscience research on brain development shows that young people's brains grow until age 25, and the area that controls the functions of planning and abstract thinking are not fully developed until the early to mid-twenties. As a result, teenagers act out for different reasons than adults and can be more impulsive. They are generally less able to assess risks and consequences, handle stressful situations and say "no" to peer pressure. However, because their brains are not fully developed, they have greater capacity for change. They are more likely than adults to respond to rehabilitative efforts, providing they receive proper treatment. 
Colorado's juvenile justice system is designed to punish youths for the crimes they committed while also providing education, medical treatment and other activities focused on the rehabilitation of the young person. Conversely, the adult system is not designed to serve the needs of youthful offenders and their families. It imposes penalties and prison terms that are not meant for youths.
Research on Prosecuting Youths as Adults
States began to change their laws and make it easier to try children in adult criminal court and incarcerate them in adult jails and prisons in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a large body of research focused on the outcomes of these changes in law. Multiple studies have determined that prosecuting teenagers in the adult system increases the risk that they will re-offend and that the changes have not enhanced public safety.
In 2007, the Task Force on Community Preventive Services of the Centers for Disease Control conducted a systematic review of published scientific evidence focused on the effects of laws that facilitated the transfer of juveniles to adult criminal justice systems. It found that (1) transferring juveniles to the adult system is counterproductive for preventing and reducing violence and (2) transfer policies have generally resulted in increased numbers of juveniles being arrested for subsequent crimes, including violent crimes.
In 2010, the UCLA School of Law Juvenile Justice Project published an extensive review of the legal, social science and science research published since 2004 focusing on the impacts of prosecuting youths in the adult criminal justice system. The UCLA researchers found that (1) the overwhelming majority of these studies show that the adult criminal justice system is ill equipped to meet the needs of youth offenders and (2) the transfer policies have demonstrated no proven deterrent effect and have caused sharp increases in recidivism.
Long-term Effects on Youths are Significant
Sending teenagers directly to adult prison only increases the likelihood they will grow up to be adult criminals. Research confirms that juveniles sentenced to adult prison spend much of their time learning criminal behavior from other inmates. They are also at the greatest risk of sexual victimization.
Under direct file, youths receive adult criminal and felony convictions. They cannot petition the court to seal their record or convert their conviction to a juvenile adjudication. All youths who are diverted from the juvenile justice system and complete sentences in the Youthful Offender System have permanent felony convictions that make it difficult to get a job, go to college and find a place to live.
Treating youthful offenders as adults makes it hard for them when released to earn enough money to live independently, pay restitution to victims, cover court costs and go on to live crime-free lives. These barriers reduce their opportunities to live productive, fulfilling lives because of mistakes made when they were young and not necessarily fully aware of the consequences of their actions.
HB12-1271 strikes the proper balance between the prosecutors' ability to recommend that youths be tried as adults with the ability for juveniles to have a judge make the final determination on whether they should be tried as adults. The factors the judge is required to consider include the impact of the crime on the victim, the safety of the community as well as the juvenile's background, development and likelihood for rehabilitation in the juvenile or adult system.
The Bell thanks Representatives Nikkel and McCann for sponsoring this bill. If you have any questions or would like further information please contact me at email@example.com or 303-297-0456, ext. 224.
 Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, Redirecting Justice: The Consequences of Prosecuting Youth as Adults and the Need to Restore Judicial Oversight, 2011,
 Task Force on Community Preventive Services, Centers for Disease Control, Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System, November 30, 2007.
 UCLA School of Law Juvenile Justice Project, The Impact of Prosecuting Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System: A Review of the Literature, July 2010.
 See footnote 1.