King County Bar Association
Juvenile Justice Reform
Proposed Legal Reforms

The research and the compelling legal precedent requires the justice system to treat juveniles more like children and less like miniature adults. Reforms are needed.

To that end, the King County Bar Association adopts the following eleven objectives, as developed by KCBA's Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force:

1.         Houston-Sconiers.  Codify the requirements set forth in State v. Houston-Sconiers, 188 Wn. 2d, 391 P.3d 409 (2017), in which the Supreme Court held that the constitution requires in sentencing youth, courts must exercise discretion and must consider the mitigating effects of features of youthfulness.  This would ensure that courts have discretion to consider features such as immaturity, proneness to risk taking, and vulnerability to peer pressure, as well as the youth’s capacity for rehabilitation.

2.         JRA Jurisdiction.  Extend jurisdiction to age 25 for juveniles sentenced to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration.  This would allow courts to retain jurisdiction over juveniles until the age of 25 (instead of 18) for certain crimes committed while a juvenile.

3.         Auto Decline. Eliminate automatic decline of juvenile jurisdiction for specified offenses and leave decline decisions to judges.  Present statutes require that judges automatically decline juvenile court jurisdiction when a juvenile is charged with certain offenses, which subjects the juvenile to an adult sentence range and incarceration in an adult prison.  This recommendation would return discretion to judges to determine whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult or a juvenile in all cases. 

4.         Juvenile priors in adult sentencing calculations. Eliminate consideration of all nonviolent misdemeanor and felony juvenile adjudications in the calculation of adult sentencing scores, leaving to the discretion of the sentencing judge whether and how to consider juvenile offender history.  Presently, juvenile offenses automatically “count” toward adult sentencing scores, which in turn automatically increases adult penalties.  These laws pre-date current understanding of adolescent brain development.  This recommendation would remove non-violent juvenile offenses from the adult offender score calculation and allow the sentencing judge to decide whether and how to consider those offenses.

5.         Sentencing alternatives. Expand alternatives to the juvenile presumptive sentencing scheme to allow youth to be eligible for Option B and deferred disposition.   Options for community-based sanctions and/or treatment allow the court to exercise its discretion to hold the juvenile accountable and to provide for rehabilitation.  Option B is a treatment based suspended sentence now available only for youth sentenced to confinement. Deferred disposition occurs when the juvenile is required to perform certain tasks while under court supervision, such as avoiding contact with specified individuals, completing school requirements, making restitution, and so on. If the juvenile successfully completes such requirements, the court has discretion to dismiss the charge.  These options are available only in very limited circumstances, which severely confines the court’s discretion.

6.         Sex offender registration. Modify registration requirements for juveniles to reflect adolescent brain development and low rate of recidivism. The requirement to register as a sex offender is lifelong, for juveniles and adults alike.  Registration affects the ability to find work and housing. But unlike adults, juveniles who commit sex offenses have a much lower rate of repeating such crimes.  When to impose the requirement and when to terminate it should be modified.

7.         Legal Financial Obligations. Eliminate mandatory Legal Financial Obligations imposed on juveniles at sentencing. “Legal Financial Obligations” are fines, penalties, attorney fees, and courts costs (but not restitution).  Juveniles generally have no assets and cannot pay these obligations.  The Legislature recently made sweeping changes to these laws as they apply to adults, in recognition of the many collateral consequences faced by adults. A review of the laws applied to juveniles is required.

8.         Diversion.  Expand options for diversion from the juvenile justice system by allowing pre-charging diversion and access to evidence-based therapeutic at the earliest possible stage of juvenile proceedings.  Research shows that diversion programs are effective in diverting juveniles away from the harms of incarceration in the system.  The 2018 Washington Legislature significantly expanded opportunities for diversion.  Further refinements and increased availability of programs will be needed as communities and courts adopt new methods for keeping juveniles out of the criminal justice system.

9.         Eliminate the incarceration of status offenders (including truancy (Becca), at risk youth (ARY), Child in Need of Services (CHINS), and dependency matters).  Youth who are truant from school or have other social issue before the courts, and who do not comply with court orders (such as to attend school), can be incarcerated for up to 7 days for contempt of court.  This serves no valid purpose and has the unintended but predictable consequence of introducing such youth to others who have committed crimes.

10.       Contact with in-custody juveniles. Change policies and practices to allow more opportunities for families, including minors, to visit and otherwise contact juveniles in custody at juvenile detentions and JR facilities. Youth in custody currently are subject to restrictive visiting policies which limit physical contact with family members and caregivers, and often prevent contact with family members who are juveniles.  These policies are inconsistent with the research, which shows that juveniles with strong family ties and engagement are less likely to reoffend. The system historically has implemented these practices which disproportionally separates and harms the familial ties of families of color.  Such contacts should be encouraged and facilitated.

11.       Self-images for sexual exploitation (teen sexting). Support the 2018 Senate Bill 6566, which would allow diversion of eligible juveniles who take self-images for purposes of sexual exploitation.  It is common nowadays for adolescents to explore their sexuality and share intimate photos. SB 6566 would recognize that by providing certain limited protections from criminal prosecution for juveniles in such circumstances.

adopted by the Board of Trustees June 20, 2018