Home Our Work Special Projects Raising the Minimum Age for Prosecuting Children

Raising the Minimum Age for Prosecuting Children


As of January 2021, over half the states (28) in the U.S. still had no minimum age for prosecuting children. The U.S. is an outlier throughout the world in the practice of prosecuting young children in court; 14 is the most common minimum age of criminal responsibility internationally.

It is shocking to the conscience that there are still states in this country that have not set a bare minimum age at which you can try a child in juvenile court. This has led to many examples of troubling treatment of young children. In January 2021, we watched in horror as video (*trigger warning*) was released of Rochester police officers pepper spraying a 9-year-old Black girl, while trying to force her into a police car. The lack of a humane and rational minimum age for prosecuting children puts youth like this 9-year-old girl at risk of experiencing the trauma of arrest and police involvement.

We must do better.

Processing and confining children in the juvenile justice system is not only traumatic but it exposes them to damaging collateral consequences, including:

●       Barriers to education and employment,

●       Fines and fees,

●       Risk to immigration status,

●       Physical and sexual abuse,

●       Suicide, and

●       Disruptions to mental and physical development that incarcerated children experience.

NJJN calls on all states to set a minimum age of prosecution of no lower than 14-years-old in accordance with the standards set forth by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  See below for resources to help you in your efforts to establish or raise your state’s minimum age for prosecuting children.

RESOURCES

State Laws on Age Limits:


1)      As of January 2021, the chart below provides information on the current state laws on the minimum age for juvenile court jurisdiction:

Minimum Age of Jurisdiction

Number of States

Which States?

Age 12

3

California,1 Massachusetts, Utah2

Age 11

1

Nebraska

Age 10

14

Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont,3 and Wisconsin

Age 8

1

Washington4

Age 7

2

Connecticut, New York

Age 6

1

North Carolina

  


1 Except for murder, rape by force, sodomy by force, oral copulation by force, and sexual penetration by force; for which there is no age limit. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 602.

2 The Utah statute has exceptions to this age limit for a variety of offenses including murder, and aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault, arson, burglary, and robbery. HB0262 (utah.gov) (2020).

3 Except for murder; for which there is no age limit. 33 V.S.A. § 5102(2)(C).

4 Wash. Rev. Code. Ann. § 9A.04.050 (though the state must prove children age 8 to 12 “have sufficient capacity to understand the act” in order to proceed against them).

2)      See the National Juvenile Defender Center’s webpage, “Minimum Age for Delinquency Adjudication - Multi-Jurisdiction Survey” for a map and statutory information on minimum ages for delinquency adjudication throughout the country.

 

Policy Positions:


NJJN Policy Platform: Raise the Minimum Age for Trying Children in Juvenile Court

Toolkits:


NJJN Policy Toolkit: Raising the Minimum Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Social Media Shares

 

Fact Sheets and Issue Briefs:


●         California

○   SB 439: End the Prosecution of Children Under 12 (Burns Institute, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Children’s Defense Fund California, Youth Justice Coalition,2018)

○   SB 439 Cosponsor Support Letter (Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Burns Institute, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice,  Children’s Defense Fund California, National Center for Youth Law, Youth Justice Coalition, Sept. 17, 2018)

○   SB 439 – Minimum Age Fact Sheet

 

●         Connecticut  

○   “No Place for a Child: Alternatives for Children Under 12 in Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice System” (Connecticut Voices for Children, February 2020)

o  “Raising the Minimum Age in Connecticut’s Juvenile Justice System” (Tow Youth Justice Institute, 2020)

 

●         Kentucky

 ○        “Minimum Age Jurisdiction Fact Sheet” (Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children/Kentucky Youth Advocates, 2020)


●         Massachusetts

○       “Raising the Lower Age of Delinquency to the 12th Birthday: Better Options of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction for Very Young Children” (Citizens for Juvenile Justice, 2017)

 

●       Nebraska

○        “Data Snapshot: Kindergarten Court” (Voices for Children in Nebraska, January 2016)

 

●       Rhode Island

○        “Setting a Minimum Age for Youth Incarceration in Rhode Island” (Rhode Island Kids Count, 2015)

 

●         Texas:

○    “Fact Sheet 2015: Support Positive Development Among Younger Youth Who Enter the Juvenile Justice System by Keeping Them Out of Secure Facilities” (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, 2015)

○    “Raise the Lower Age: Support HB 1364” (Texas Appleseed)

○    “Raising the Lower Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction: A Data Analysis” (Texas Appleseed)

 

Organizational Statements


●       The American Academy of Pediatrics (2020)

Recommends legislation that establishes a minimum age of (at least) 12- years-old for criminal responsibility under which a person may not be charged with a crime.

●          National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC) (2020)

Recommends that the Biden/Harris Administration incentivize states to reduce incarceration by establishing laws setting a reasonable minimum age of 12 years for juvenile court jurisdiction.

●       Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) (2016)

Recommends upholding the minimum age of criminal responsibility as age 12 years, under which youth may not be charged with a crime or penalized, citing to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) General comment No. 10(2007). This General comment has now been superseded by General comment No. 24 which recommends a minimum age of 14-years-old.


International Resources


●       United Nations (UN) Convention the Rights of the Child (CRC) (2019)

General Comment No. 24 encouraged nations to increase their minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14-years-old without carve-out exceptions.

●       United Nations – Independent Expert to the UN General Assembly on Children Deprived of Liberty (2019)

Recommended that nations establish a minimum age of criminal responsibility that is not below 14 years of age.


Research Publications


Note that some of these require access to particular journals in order to review the full publication.

●       “Child Incarceration and Long-term Adult Health Outcomes: A Longitudinal Study,” International Journal of Prisoner Health, 14 (1) (2018).

Although incarceration may have life-long negative health effects, little is known about associations between child incarceration and subsequent adult health outcomes. The paper aims to discuss this issue.

●       “Expanding Youth Justice in New York,” Children’s Defense Fund-NY and Youth Represent (Fall 2020).

Explores research and policy interventions for emerging adults and issues facing younger system-involved children that must be addressed.

●       “Health Impact Review of S-6720.1 Concerning the Jurisdiction of Juvenile Court” (2021 Legislative Session), Oct. 1, 2021, Washington State Board of Health.

This Health Impact Review analysis of bill S-6720.1, which aimed to change the procedural jurisdiction of juvenile court to 13 through 19 years, old found very strong evidence of improved health outcomes, decreased juvenile recidivism, and improved access to employment opportunities, housing, and economic stability.

●       “Incapable of Criminal Intent: The Case for Setting a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility in Illinois,” Legislation and Policy Clinic, Civitas ChildLaw Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law (January 2021).

Argues that Illinois should set a minimum age of criminal responsibility at 14-years-old, so that children ages 13 and under cannot be arrested or charged in either juvenile or adult criminal systems.

●       “Is a Minimum Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction a Necessary Protection? A Case Study in the State of California” Crime & Delinquency 65 (2018).

Triangulated analysis found that a low number of California children below the age of 12 years are petitioned in juvenile court and most are referred for misdemeanor or status offenses. Existing legal protections are present yet inconsistently implemented. A minimum age law would address some of these policy gaps.

●       “SB 439 Implementation Guide,”  National Center for Youth Law and W. Haywood Burns Institute (2019).

Guidance for implementing the California law that ended the prosecution of children under the age of 12.                

●       “Setting a Minimum Age for Juvenile Justice Jurisdiction in California,” International Journal of Prisoner Health 13 (2017).

Existing evidence suggests that children lack the cognitive maturity to comprehend or benefit from formal juvenile justice processing, and diverting children from the system altogether is likely to be more beneficial for the child and for public safety.

●       “What is the Relationship Between Incarceration of Children and Adult Health Outcomes?” 19(3) Academic Pediatrics (2019).

Child incarceration displays even wider sociodemographic disparities than incarceration generally and is associated with even worse adult physical and mental health outcomes.

●       “When Is a Child Too Young for Juvenile Court? A Comparative Case Study of State Law and Implementation in Six Major Metropolitan Areas,” Crime & Delinquency (2019).

This case study examines minimum age laws and related statutes in the six largest U.S. states and explores implementation of these policies and practices in major metropolitan areas within these states.


Websites


●       Children’s Rights International Network (CRIN)

CRIN has compiled information on minimum ages of criminal responsibility around the world including an interactive map and corresponding legislation.

●         National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC)

NJDC has compiled a map showing the minimum ages of prosecution in states across the country including the state statutes.