February 25, 2021 – California is now the first state in the country to end transfers of children younger than 16 to the adult criminal justice system because of a California Supreme Court ruling today that upholds a state law designed to protect youth. In 2018, California passed S1391 to exclude anyone under age 16 from being charged as if they were an adult in order to shield them from the extremes of the criminal justice system. Some prosecutors challenged the constitutionality of the law which led to today’s unanimous ruling.

This law is the most recent in a series of laws passed in California to reduce the number of children who are charged and sentenced as if they were adults. For children age 16 or 17, California now requires a family court judge to review each case against a set of individualized factors before transferring them into the adult system. Fewer than 50 California children were prosecuted as adults last year.

Policy trends show that the country is moving away from the harsh punishments prescribed to youth in the 1990s when nearly every state made it easier to automatically treat children as young as 7 years old as adults. These laws overwhelmingly harm children of color; nearly 90% of youth sentenced as adults in the country are Black, Latinx or American Indian.

Over the past decade, 24 states have reversed, repealed or restricted their automatic transfer laws while juvenile crime dropped to its lowest point in nearly 50 years. 

The Sentencing Project condemns extreme penalties as inhumane, racist, and often inconsistent with public safety interests. In recognition that children should not be subjected to extreme punishment, The Sentencing Project is continuing the work of the Campaign for Youth Justice to end the prosecution, sentencing, and incarceration of youth as if they were adults. www.sentencingproject.org