Success from the session: Limiting adult charges against youths offers best chance for rehabilitation
Gov. John Hickenlooper last week signed into law a piece of legislation that will place limits and safeguards on the ability to directly file charges against youthful offenders in adult court. We are pleased with his decision to sign House Bill 12-1271, because this legislation recognizes the large body of research showing that prosecuting teens as adults makes it less likely that they will be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.
"Direct file" refers to the process under which a prosecutor can bypass juvenile court and directly file charges against a teen in district court. This bill inserts judicial review of a prosecutor's decision to charge a juvenile as an adult. It allows juveniles to request reverse-transfer hearings and also narrows the criteria under which a case could be eligible for direct file.
We believe that this legislation 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.
Our support of this bill is rooted in the research showing that it is in the interest of public safety to reform our direct-file laws. Colorado and many other states made it easier to transfer juveniles to the adult system in the 1980s and 1990s, but reviews of the research on the outcomes of these changes have found that transferring juveniles to the adult system is counterproductive to preventing and reducing violence. Transfer policies have generally resulted in increased numbers of juveniles being arrested for subsequent crimes, including violent crimes.(1) These policies have demonstrated no proven deterrent effect and have caused sharp increases in recidivism. The overwhelming majority of these studies show that the adult criminal justice system is ill-equipped to meet the needs of juvenile offenders.(2)
The Bell submitted testimony to both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in support of the bill, and we were part of by diverse group, including "Juvenile or Adult: Let a Judge Decide," convened by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, that worked to win backing for the legislation. We were pleased to see such broad-based, bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.
We know that it was a difficult decision, and we thank Gov. Hickenlooper for signing the bill into law. We find its safeguards to be fair, fitting and necessary, and we look forward to the benefits that its implementation will bring.
1) 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 System, Nov. 30, 2007.
2) 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.