Juvenile Justice Reform: HB 3900 and Beyond

By R. DAVID LACOURSE, JR.  | 
POLICY BRIEF
|
Jan 1, 1998

Washington State developed its first juvenile justice system in 1913. Under the law, courts had wide latitude in dealing with juvenile offenders because there were no statewide sentencing standards. Sentencing was based more on the welfare of the child than the concepts of guilt or innocence.

The Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 brought more uniformity to the system by establishing set standards. Its goal was to hold juvenile offenders accountable for their actions. However, most people considered juvenile crimes as non-violent, one-time only occurrences. The complex grid system, with sentencing options based on a rehabilitative model, reflected these beliefs.

Unfortunately, the nature of juvenile crime has been changing. Many observers still remember juvenile crime as comparatively minor offenses such as graffiti, joy riding, petty theft, trivial pranks and vandalism. Perhaps that was true in the 1950s, but no longer. Police, prosecutors, judges, crime victims and lawmakers have known for years that the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 has become inadequate for today's more violent criminals. Chilling crime statistics have highlighted the need for reform.

Juvenile arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter jumped 617% from only six arrests in 1984 to forty-three in 1996. The record was set in 1994 with forty-eight arrests. Seattle had no juvenile arrests for murder or non-negligent manslaughter in either 1984 or 1985, but has made at least one arrest every year since, including 26 in just the last three years (1994-96).1

This disturbing trend was also evident in other serious crimes. Juvenile arrests for forcible rape increased 59% from 96 to 153, robberies jumped 96% from 361 to 707, weapon carrying and possession soared 116% from 371 to 800, and all assaults exploded 140% from 3301 to 7924. In contrast, juvenile arrests for all other crimes increased only 16% during the same time period.2

A recent state study found that over 55% of violent, chronic juvenile offenders were convicted of an adult felony before the age of 25.3 Another study found that the percentage of eighteen year-olds with at least one violent conviction on their record has more than doubled in just six years (111% from 1988 to 1994).4 This trend has juveniles competing with young adults in total criminality.

The following chart shows that in 1996, more juveniles between the ages of 13-17 were arrested for robbery, arson and burglary than young adults between the ages of 18-22. In addition, juvenile offenders were arrested for aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder and several other crimes almost as much as young adults.

Crime of Arrest

Juveniles 13-17

    18-22

Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter

    41

    52

Negligent Manslaughter

    1

    9

Forcible Rape

    133

    164

Robbery

    651

    473

Aggravated Assault

    1,065

    1,103

Arson

    146

    52

Burglary

    2,761

    1,335

Weapons Carrying/Use

    739

    830

Other Assaults

    5,951

    6,335

All other offenses

    38,871

    47,731

Total of All Offenses

    50,359

    58,104

The Washington State Legislature made great strides last year to reverse these disturbing trends with the passage of jointly sponsored House Bill 3900. HB 3900 was designed to refocus the juvenile system on the first-time and non-violent offenders, increase accountability for both juvenile offenders and their responsible adults, and increase deterrence. Deterrence is an often misunderstood concept that many criminologists believe is affected by three factors: (a) the likelihood of being caught, (b) the time between crime and punishment, (c) and the severity of punishment. All the reforms had the goal of helping the system be more effective in stopping young offenders before they became career criminals. This study will review the revisions to the juvenile justice system made by HB 3900 and identify other reforms which could address the objective of creating a juvenile justice system that will concentrate on rehabilitating early offenders and punishing serious criminals.

Major Provisions of HB 3900

1. Simplified Juvenile Sentencing Grids and Increased Sentences. Under the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977, there were many steps for sentencing a juvenile offender. A judge would first determine whether the offender was a "serious offender," "middle offender," or "minor or first offender." These classifications dictated the available sentencing options. Minor/first offenders could not be incarcerated unless the judge gave an exceptional sentence.

The judge was then forced to perform a complex calculation of "points" based on the: (a) seriousness of the current offense, (b) seriousness of the prior convictions, if any, (c) time span since the priors were committed, and (d) age of the offender. This process incorporated many sentencing grids and tables, while the adult system has only one.

The juvenile system was considered overly complex and too rigid. Judges and prosecutors wanted more sentencing options, including incarceration for minor or first offenders when warning signs are present. Many also believed that the system was too lenient on violent juveniles.

For example, the 1977 Act did little or nothing to young criminals who committed misdemeanor crimes. Since the first, second and even third crimes were likely to be diverted out of the juvenile justice system and placed into a 'Community Accountability Board', a juvenile's third or fourth crime was often treated as a first offense. Even then, the punishment prescribed by the standard sentencing range was 0-90 days of probation with no jail time possible.

The Legislature examined these concerns and went through many early drafts. The final conclusion was to eliminate the "point system" entirely. The only debate was over exactly how to accomplish this goal.

The House approved a sentencing grid that resembled a simplified adult sentencing grid with incarceration as a standard option for any juvenile offender. This juvenile grid based sentencing only on the seriousness of the current and prior offenses. The age of the defendant and the time span since the prior crimes were committed were no longer factored. All felonies counted as one point each and misdemeanor convictions were not included in the new grid. This last change was both a cost saving measure and modeled after the adult system, which also does not count misdemeanors.

Another significant change from the 1977 grid was the expansion of probationary periods to up to 12 months for all offenders with local sentences. Probation allows courts to impose conditions of school attendance, weekend curfew, drug and alcohol treatment, and other conditions designed to build some structure into a juvenile's life. The previous periods, which included either 0-90 days or 3-6 months, were too short to allow for meaningful intervention.

Sentences for violent offenders were also increased. For example, a 15 year old with no priors convicted of assault in the second degree involving serious bodily injury to the victim would face a standard sentencing range of 24-36 weeks under the House proposal. Under the old law, the standard range was only 13-16 weeks.

The Senate modified the House grid in several ways. First, misdemeanor convictions were added to the grid and counted as 1/4 point each. The grid change increased sentences for chronic misdemeanor offenders in order to deter them from continuing a career in crime and increased proportionality in sentencing. This was a sound addition, since both felony and misdemeanor priors correspond to an increased likelihood of future criminal activity, especially early in a criminal's career.

Second, some Senate lawmakers wanted to lower various parts of the sentencing grid ranges from 24-36 weeks to only 15-20 weeks. A compromise was struck and these sentencing ranges were expanded to 15-36 weeks to allow for broader discretion from judges. Both of these Senate changes remained in the final bill as signed by the Governor.

As enacted, the law permits judges greater discretion, allows jail time for any offender, increased sentencing for many violent juveniles, and moves significantly away from the philosophy that all juvenile offenders are merely misunderstood kids needing guidance and a slap on the wrist. The new grid thus recognizes the serious nature of our growing juvenile crime problem in modern society.

2. Expanded Automatic-Decline for More Violent Juveniles. Automatic-decline occurs when a juvenile is automatically sent into the adult criminal justice system without a hearing. Washington first enacted automatic-decline in 1994, with a very narrow set of criteria for both the age of the offender and the seriousness of the current and/or prior crime(s).

The 1994 law required the offender to be either 16 or 17 years old and charged with either a "serious violent offense"5 or a "violent offense."6 If charged with a violent offense, the juvenile also had to have a criminal history of at least: (i) one serious violent prior; or (ii) two violent priors, or (iii) any combination of three prior class A felonies, class B felonies, vehicular assaults or manslaughters in the second degree. These provisions became known as "Two Strikes and Up" and "Three Strikes and Up" since the offender becomes an adult after a certain number of priors. But there was even another requirement for "Three Strikes and Up" -- all the priors must have been committed after the offender's thirteenth birthday.

As a result of all the prior requirements and age constraints, very few juveniles were ever declined under this provision. Picture a 17 year old chronic juvenile offender who is charged with assault in the second degree for sending a victim to the hospital. His criminal history includes a prior assault in the second degree conviction at age 14, two residential burglary convictions at ages 12 and 15, and no less than a dozen thefts in the second degree and other offenses not part of automatic-decline. Because of the age 13 rule and the narrow list of crimes, this fifteen-time offender cannot be automatically transferred into adult court.

Voluntary declines into adult court occur very rarely, leaving most of the other violent offenders in juvenile court. In 1995 and 1996 there were 411 decline hearings in King County. The court only relinquished control in 26 of them, or only 6% of all hearings. Even robbery 1, manslaughter 1, and assault 2 cases involving firearms are often retained in juvenile court.7 Whether this is a result of judges retaining control or overworked prosecutors fighting too many battles was debated in the Legislature. Either way, voluntary decline is not happening in 94% of the King County hearings.

The House approved version of HB 3900 would have sent all 16 and 17 year old violent offenders into the adult system. Several polls showed strong public support for this proposal and proponents touted that the adult system would provide longer sentences for most violent juveniles and more accountability by providing a "strike" under Washington's Three Strikes, You're Out law. In addition, supporters felt that the juvenile system should refocus its efforts on younger, non-violent offenders.

Opponents, including Governor Gary Locke, some Democrat lawmakers and several Senate Republicans, had concerns with this section and wanted it substantially weakened or eliminated. Their position was that juries might be less likely to convict a juvenile in an adult court and that rehabilitation options were scarcer in the adult system. In addition, some groups normally opposed to longer sentences pointed out that some first-time violent juveniles could receive a more lenient sentence in adult court if they were not armed with a weapon during the commission of the crime. (In reality, a main objection by many opponents was the fact that a violent, juvenile offender sentenced as an adult would receive a "strike" under Washington's Three Strikes, You're Out law.)8

With another veto threatened and the Senate vote too close to call, a deal was struck to protect the rest of the reforms. The final bill only added the crimes of robbery in the first degree, rape of a child in the first degree, drive-by shooting, and any other violent offense while armed with a firearm to the automatic-decline provision. Burglary in the first degree was included only if the offender had a prior misdemeanor or felony conviction, or was armed with a firearm (Burglary 1 is a violent crime under state law).

3. Firearm Enhancements Expanded to the Juvenile System. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the Hard Time for Armed Crime initiative for adult offenders in 1995.9 Therefore, it is no surprise that many lawmakers supported adding firearm enhancements into the juvenile system. The new enhancements for being armed with a firearm are as follows:

  • 6 months for any class A felony. [10]
  • 4 months for any class B felony. [11]
  • 2 months for any class C felony. [12]

In addition, mere unlawful possession of a firearm by a juvenile now earns a minimum sentence of 10 days. This applies to even first-time offenders and recognizes the danger that any firearm-toting criminal poses to society. The 10 day requirement was first enacted in 1994, but the Legislature made all of these sentences consecutive to any other sentencing provisions under HB 3900.

4. Juvenile Priors Count in Adult System. Under the old rehabilitative model, juvenile offenses were often sealed or no longer counted in sentencing after an offender reached adulthood. The noble goal of a "fresh start" sounded great but over time turned into a major abuse of the system as more juveniles relied upon the policy.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the Legislature made several improvements to hold juveniles more accountable for their actions. By 1996, all juvenile convictions for sex offenses and serious violent offenses became a permanent part of sentencing.

Unfortunately, there were still deficiencies in the system. The remaining class A, B and C felonies were only included if committed after the offender's fifteenth birthday. In addition, these class B and C felonies disappeared from an individual's record at the age of 23. This policy turned many chronic juvenile offenders into "first-time offenders" overnight. Even if an offender was repeatedly convicted of felony crimes between the ages of 18 to 23, the juvenile priors would still "wash out." The result was lower standard sentencing ranges to proven, chronic offenders as a twenty-third birthday present.

The Legislature sought to end this harmful policy and reform the system to distinguish between chronic criminals and people who have outgrown their criminal past. HB 3900 accomplished both of these goals by providing much tougher standards for sealing juvenile records and mandating that juvenile priors be treated the same as adult priors. Juvenile class B felony priors and class C felony priors now count as part of sentencing until the offender has remained crime-free in the community for 10 years or 5 years, respectively. These changes were major steps toward recognizing that some juvenile offenders continue their criminal conduct well into adulthood and that career criminals don't deserve any breaks on their juvenile convictions.

5. Chemical Dependency Treatment & Early Intervention Programs Created. Under the old law, standard sentences could be suspended or waived under a provision known as "Option B" and substituted for community supervision, community service, and/or a fine. Treatment was not required and was seldom available in the community. In addition, early intervention programs have always been in short supply.

The Legislature recognized the need for treating people addicted to drugs and expanding community level programs that would provide alternatives to crime for juveniles. A new option was created to allow the court to require a juvenile offender to attend either in-patient or out-patient treatment for addiction. This new option is not available for any juvenile convicted of a very serious felony. In addition, community-based programs, including education and job training, were authorized under HB 3900. The standard means of suspending a sentence under Option B was eliminated at the same time.

These sentencing changes were a worthy addition to a comprehensive reform package. While treatment and intervention programs have mixed results, the potential for rehabilitation is real and can be reviewed for effectiveness after several years. A side benefit of including both the treatment and intervention programs was to win more support among some of the more liberal members of the Legislature.

6. Parental Involvement Increased. Previously, there were few enforcement procedures for getting parents or responsible adults involved in the lives of juvenile offenders. This was a major oversight since many police, prosecutors, judges, and concerned advocacy groups believe that family situations have a profound affect on a juvenile's value system regarding crime and punishment.

Proponents wanted to provide judges more information about a young offender's life than could be contained in a presentence report. Under HB 3900, a juvenile in detention can only be released into the custody of either a responsible adult or the Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS). Furthermore, a judge can now require adults to attend proceedings involving a juvenile offender under their care. Failure to participate without reasonable cause can result in the court holding that adult in contempt. While this change is not a panacea, it is hoped that requiring parental involvement will help encourage some parents to take a more active role in the lives of their children and therefore help keep them out of a life of crime.

7. Restitution Requirements Tightened. Under the old law, both juvenile and adult criminals could plead poverty to avoid paying restitution. This provision was removed with the passage of HB 3900. Another bill, HB 1096, tightened and extended the time frame for which restitution can be ordered for juvenile offenders.

8. Renamed and Reclassified Reckless Endangerment. "Reckless endangerment in the first degree" was correctly renamed "drive-by shooting" and added to the list of violent offenses under RCW 9.94A.030. This is a good clarification of what the crime actually involves. In addition, the listing of "drive-by shooting" as a violent crime will also provide longer sentences for many offenders. Most criminals with a prior conviction for drive-by shooting will end up with a higher offender score (and therefore a longer sentence) based on this reclassification.

Building on the Successful Reforms of HB 3900

It took twenty years to develop and pass comprehensive reform to our juvenile justice system. Washington's new juvenile justice system now provides tougher penalties for violent juveniles, more accountability, parental involvement, and increased treatment options.

The Legislature made great strides with the passage of HB 3900. But the work is not done. The following recommendations from police, prosecutors and crime victims are designed to compliment many of the reforms made last session:

Issue 1. Consider Adding Other Deadly Weapon Enhancements. The Legislature passed tougher penalties for juvenile offenders armed with firearms last year. This was a major step forward in recognizing that a criminal carrying a weapon is premeditatedly preparing to commit violence with it.

But other weapons are deadly too. An assault with a large knife or tire iron is a serious crime and the decision to carry or use such a weapon while committing a crime should carry some mandatory consequences. These weapons are relatively silent in use and can be very deadly in the wrong hands. One possible suggestion from a crime victim advocate was the following enhancements:

  • 3 months for any class A felony.
  • 2 months for any class B felony.
  • 1 month for any class C felony.

Mere unlawful possession of a deadly weapon other than a firearm by a criminal could earn a minimum sentence of 5 days. All of these penalties are exactly one-half of the length of the current firearm penalties.

Issue 2. Review Minimum Sentence for Armed Juveniles. Any criminal with a firearm is a potential lethal threat. Current law requires a minimum 10 day consecutive sentence for any juvenile convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm under RCW 9.41.040(1)(b)(iii). This section only applies to juveniles found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree. Unfortunately, juveniles with a prior serious felony conviction are guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree under RCW 9.41.040(1)(a). Therefore, current law fails to provide a mandatory minimum sentence for the more serious juvenile offenders caught with firearms.

The Legislature should consider closing this loophole and providing a minimum 20 day consecutive sentence for armed juveniles with serious prior felonies on their record.

Issue 3. Review Fingerprinting Policy for Juvenile Offenders. Many offenders commit a large number of crimes for each time they are arrested according to both police and interviews with criminals. For juveniles who specialize in burglary, car prowls and theft, that is especially the case. The principle clues left behind in many of these crimes are fingerprints.

Unfortunately, law enforcement is handicapped by current law that allows the fingerprinting of juveniles, but does not mandate it under RCW 43.43.735. Several loopholes allow either juvenile detention facilities or law enforcement to waive fingerprinting of juvenile offenders, and thus a vital crime-fighting tool can go unutilized.

Compiling the fingerprints of all juveniles arrested for any offense will increase the number of crimes solved in the future. Perhaps more importantly, it will hold more juveniles accountable for their actions early, and therefore deflect some from a path of continued criminal behavior.

Issue 4. Consider Adding Drive-By Shooting to the List of "Strike" Offenses. Assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree and attempts at these two crimes are already listed as "strikes" under Washington's Three Strikes, You're Out law as "most serious offenses" under RCW 9.94A.030. Both crimes can involve deadly weapons, including firearms. Murder 1 and 2, as well as manslaughter 1 and 2 are also covered as "strikes" if death occurs from a reckless or negligent shooting.

The crime of drive-by shooting always requires the reckless discharge of a firearm with a substantial risk of either death or serious physical injury. The shooting must also occur from a motor vehicle or the immediate area around a motor vehicle. Injuries are not necessary.

Many police and crime victims believe that any offender sentenced as an adult must learn that indiscriminate shootings count as a "strike", regardless of whether an injury occurs or not. Based on the fact that comparable assaults and homicides are already "strikes," the Legislature should consider including this very serious crime as a "most serious offense."

Issue 5. Consider Exempting Parents Who Assist in Unsolved Crimes from Juvenile Justice Costs. Some concerned parents or legal guardians turn their children over to police when wrongdoing is discovered. Unfortunately, current law can actually punish these responsible adults for seeking out help and justice. RCW 13.16.085, 13.34.170, 13.40.145 and 13.40.220 all require parents to pay part of the costs of a public attorney, treatment and/or incarceration of a juvenile offender under their control. There are no exemptions for parents who come forward to report their own children for unsolved crimes.

This policy can lead to parents becoming uncooperative with police, and encourages them to cover-up unsolved crimes. A police officer in Thurston County reports that one family in his area would no longer help turn in their child to police because they could no longer afford it.

Washington's current policy should be reviewed for fairness. At a minimum, courts should be empowered to waive financial punishment for parents who alert the police about the wrongdoing by their kids.

Issue 6. Consider Ways to Reduce Time Between Crime and Punishment. The chief of police for a city in Snohomish County noted that the time frame from the criminal action to the actual sentence is sometimes ridiculously long. In one case, a 14 year old defendant charged with residential burglary involving stolen firearms received a 7 day detention sentence. But the sentence was not even imposed for over a year after his arrest. And then the sentence was not carried out for another six weeks due to lack of space available in the juvenile detention facilities. At that point, the offender probably didn't even remember what he did in the first place.

This is not an isolated incident. Several other police representatives have expressed concerns over the length of time between arrest and sentencing. As stated earlier, many criminologists believe that certainty, severity and timeliness affect deterrence. Therefore, steps should be taken to expedite the juvenile justice system, including the building of adequate capacity in local detention centers.

Issue 7. Review Detention Policy in Overcrowded Facilities. Juvenile detention facilities in some urban counties are so overcrowded that Juvenile Court Administrators have written orders forbidding police to detain juveniles arrested for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors within the county juvenile facilities. This "no admission" policy frustrates police who are trying to stop criminals early on and sends the wrong message to young offenders.

If these arrested juveniles were brought to the facility, even for just an hour or two, they would see what awaits them if they continue to commit crimes. In addition, the short detention period would allow time to fingerprint them.

Issue 8. Review Automatic-Decline Policies for Violent Juveniles. The juvenile justice system works best with the first-time offenders and non-violent criminals. By focusing its energies on these less serious offenders, who may still be deflected from becoming career criminals, the network of juvenile courts, treatment options and detention facilities best serve society as a whole and the interests of the boys and girls in its charge.

Violent and older criminals distract the juvenile system from its intended purpose and harm the ability to deter young criminals and reform their behavior. That is the reason to transfer serious offenders into adult court for adult punishment.

While at least 47 states utilize "automatic-decline" measures to transfer offenders out of the juvenile courts, Washington has historically been much more restrictive than most other states.13 King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng's office published an analysis on violent 16 and 17 year olds in King County. According to that study, 70% of the 16 and 17 year olds charged in 1996 with either violent assault or robbery had prior criminal records. In fact, they averaged four convictions each.

The study also showed that of the remaining 30% of the juveniles without priors, nearly all (80%) were armed with a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime. Of the few individuals without a weapon, most had inflicted serious injuries upon their victims or had a prior diversion proceeding to avoid a criminal conviction.

Based on these statistics and the serious nature of violent juvenile crime, many prosecutors and police argue that all violent 16 and 17 year olds should be transferred into adult courts. Not only do they consider this sound policy, but it is also a cost-saving measure.

It costs more than two-times as much money to house an individual in a juvenile detention facility than in an adult correctional facility. Annual care and custody in an adult facility costs around $22,977 while a juvenile center costs around $51,641. The ratio becomes worse if education costs are added, with total costs running $24,071 in adult units versus $58,982 for juvenile spaces.14

In spite of these facts, opponents of automatic-decline contend that an automatic transfer into adult court is too harsh and would interfere with rehabilitation by incarcerating juveniles in adult facilities (juveniles are kept separate from the adult population under HB 3900).

With the differences in philosophy made apparent by the 1997 legislative debate, a practical solution may be to focus on specific aggravating conditions that should result in automatic-declines. The following five recommendations are designed to move many violent individuals into adult court without causing as much debate as a blanket policy.

(A) Other Deadly Weapons. Politically correct weapons can still maim or kill. It makes little sense having only violent juveniles armed with firearms transferred into adult court while ignoring juveniles with other deadly weapons. In fact, such a distinction may actually encourage juveniles to believe that they can carry knives and clubs with no consequences (See Issue 1 on the current lack of juvenile deadly weapon enhancements). By adding other deadly weapons to the automatic decline requirements, violent behavior will be properly sanctioned.

(B) Expand List of Crimes. The 1997 Legislature made some progress in expanding the list of crimes subject to automatic-decline into the adult courts without priors. But others, such as rape in the second degree and child molestation in the first degree are not "juvenile indiscretions" and should merit a quick trip into the adult system for serious consequences. Serious offenders convicted as adults receive both a longer sentence and a "strike" under the Three Strikes, You're Out law.

(C) Expand "Two Strikes and Up" to Include Sex Offenses. The current "Two Strikes and Up" policy sends a two-time violent 16 or 17 year old automatically into adult court. Many sex offenses are not listed as "violent" under state law but deserve the same serious attention and should be included in the "Two Strikes and Up" language.

(D) Modify and Clarify the "Three Strikes and Up" Policy. Current automatic-decline provisions include violent 16 and 17 year olds who have three or more priors from the following list: class A felonies, class B felonies, vehicular assaults, or manslaughters in the second degree (all committed after the offender's thirteenth birthday).

All class A felonies, some class B felonies, vehicular assault and manslaughter in the second degree are violent crimes. In fact, both vehicular assault and manslaughter in the second degree have been upgraded from class C felonies to class B felonies in the last two years. The law should be modified to reflect these changes.

At a minimum, Washington's "Three Strikes and Up" policy should be modified to include all violent 16 and 17 year olds who have three or more priors of any combination of: Any violent offense, sex offense or any class B felony crimes. If a 17 year old offender has two separate convictions for residential burglary (non-violent class B felony) plus one conviction for rape in the third degree (class C sex offense), that individual should be considered an adult for sentencing purposes.

(E) Removal of Thirteenth Birthday 'Free Pass.' Currently, crimes committed before the thirteenth birthday do not count toward an automatic referral into adult court under the "Three Strikes and Up" policy. While many people believe that few juveniles commit serious crimes so young, this is unfortunately no longer true. The following chart illustrates this fact.

Number of Juveniles Arrested Under Age 13

Crime

1984

1996

Percentage Change
from 1984 to 1996

Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter

1

2

100%

Negligent Manslaughter

0

1

n/a

Forcible Rape

10

20

100%

Robbery

21

56

166.7%

Aggravated Assault

129

125

-3.1%

Arson

58

75

29.3%

Burglary

493

317

-35.7%

Weapons Carrying/Use

34

61

79.4%

Other Assaults

190

783

312.1%

All Other Offenses

3887

3695

-4.9%

Grand Total of All Offenses

4823

5135

6.5%

While overall under thirteen crime has only increased 6% in twelve years, as the table above shows there has been an alarming increase in robbery (up 166%), non-aggravated assault (up 312%) and weapons offenses (up 79%). This is not "kid stuff".

Prosecutors and police argue that a juvenile who commits felonies before the age of 13 should be considered even more of a threat than juvenile offenders starting later in life. Therefore, they argue, no breaks should be given to 'early bloomers' in criminal activity.

Removal of the age thirteen requirement would be consistent with the elimination of the offender's age from the juvenile sentencing grid and from the adult offender score section last year under HB 3900.

All five of these changes to automatic-decline continue the Legislature's efforts in HB 3900 to refocus the juvenile justice system toward the first-time and non-violent criminals and stopping criminal careers early. In addition, these changes will allow the 16 and 17 year old violent or sex offenders to earn their first "strike" under Washington's Three Strikes, You're Out law. A "strike" on the record sends a strong message that violent behavior will not be tolerated forever.

Summary

The Legislature made many sound improvements to our juvenile justice system last year. These reforms included tougher penalties for violent juveniles and more treatment and early intervention. There is little doubt that Washington's juvenile justice system is now better prepared for today's more serious juvenile offenders.

Many lawmakers are inclined to build on the successes of last session and continue improving Washington's juvenile justice system. This may become more critical as Washington's juvenile population grows. The Office of Financial Management expects 125,000 more Washington juveniles between the ages of 10-17 within a decade.

This 20% increase in the juvenile population over current levels, coupled with the recent trend toward more violent juvenile crime, requires the state to continue further refinements in order to establish strong policies to punish and deter juvenile crime. If no actions are taken, Washington State will experience a crime wave of massive proportions, merely if we retain the same crime rate among juveniles.

About the Author

David LaCourse is currently the Executive Director of Washington Citizens for Justice and is a former Research Analyst for the Washington Institute for Policy Studies. He helped author both the Three Strikes and Hard Time proposals and was Campaign Director for both initiatives.

____________

1   Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs data on juvenile arrests/Uniform Crime Reporting Section.

2   Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs data on juvenile arrests/Uniform Crime Reporting Section. Negligent manslaughter decreased from 7 in 1984 to 2 in 1996, a decrease of 71%.

3   The Class of 1988, Seven Years Later: How a Juvenile Offender's Crime, Criminal History, and Age Affect the Chances of Becoming an Adult Felon in Washington State, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, January 1997.

4   Juvenile Violence in Washington: First Time and Repeat Offenders, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, February, 1996.

5   "Serious violent offense" is a subcategory of violent offense and means murder in the first degree, homicide by abuse, murder in the second degree, manslaughter in the first degree, assault in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, rape in the first degree, assault of a child in the first degree, or an attempt, criminal solicitation, or criminal conspiracy to commit one of these felonies. Comparable federal or out-of-state convictions are also included.

6   "Violent offense" means any of the following felonies: Any class A felony or an attempt, criminal solicitation, or criminal conspiracy to commit a class A felony, manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, indecent liberties by force, kidnapping in the second degree, arson in the second degree, assault in the second degree, assault of a child in the second degree, extortion in the first degree, robbery in the second degree, drive-by shooting, vehicular assault, and vehicular homicide when recklessly driving or under the influence of any drug or alcohol. Comparable federal or out-of-state convictions are also included.

7   SERIOUS CRIMES and SERIOUS CRIMINALS: A Study of Young Violent Offenders by Norm Maleng, King County Prosecuting Attorney, 1997.

8   "Three Strikes, You're Out" : A Review by R. David LaCourse, Jr., Washington Institute for Policy Studies, February, 1997.

9   "Hard Time for Armed Crime": A Review by R. David LaCourse, Jr., Washington Institute Foundation, July 1997.

10   Class A felonies are considered the most serious and have a maximum sentence in the adult system of at least 20 years. Examples: Murder 1 & 2, assault 1, kidnapping 1, rape 1 & 2, robbery 1 and burglary 1.

11   Class B felonies have a maximum sentence in the adult system of 8-20 years for a first offense. Examples: Assault 2, residential burglary, child molestation 2, possession of stolen property 1, theft 1 and robbery 2.

12   Class C felonies have a maximum sentence in the adult system of 5-8 years for a first offense. Examples: Assault 3, theft 2, possession of stolen property 2, taking a motor vehicle without permission and rape 3.

13   "Teens find a chilly, zero-tolerance world," The Herald, March, 4, 1997.

14   Roundtable Discussion on Criminal Justice Funding Issues by Bryon Moore of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, January 28, 1997.