Home News Center Utah Raises Lower Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

Utah Raises Lower Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

April 28, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain

The 2020 legislative session saw multiple youth justice wins in Utah, including eliminating the prosecution and incarceration of children under 12 years old. NJJN Member Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys (UJDA), played a significant role in getting HB 262 passed by drafting legislation and educating policymakers on the issue of raising the lower age of prosecution.

As a result of the new law, children under 12 with a court referral will be required to go through a formal diversion process that outlines an agreement for that child to complete certain activities over at least a three-month period. The agreement could include actions, such as community service, mediation, paying restitution, counseling or other services deemed necessary based on the circumstances. There could also be no actions required at all. Children needing extensive therapy could have agreements extended beyond three months.

UJDA and Utah’s Department of Juvenile Justice Services worked closely together on the effort, along with other community partners, including the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Utah Board of Juvenile Justice, Voices for Utah Children, the ACLU of Utah, and Libertas Institute. Raising the lower age of jurisdiction has received increased attention in states across the country, and Utah youth justice advocates seized an opportunity to address the issue.

“We didn’t get that much pushback from legislators on HB 262,” said Pam Vickrey, Executive Director of UJDA. “Our reforms bills that passed in 2017 and 2019 created momentum and legislators were more apt to talking about young kids in the system.”

Brief opposition did come from the state’s prosecutors who brought up kids acting out through sexual offenses. “Our biggest challenge was not allowing the debate to go down that rabbit hole,” Vickrey said. “We had to reframe the conversation to focus on the importance of providing intensive therapy in those particular cases and extending the agreement that those youth would enter into to give them time for prolonged counseling.”

Outside of the lower age bill, Utah also narrowed transfer laws to lower the number of youth transferred to the adult system and created a stronger expungement statute. UJDA’s priorities moving forward include monitoring implementation of HB 262 and ensuring there is a protocol for supporting families to help them successfully complete nonjudicial agreements for their children.

To learn more about UDJA, visit their website: https://ujda.org/

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