Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill that would enable the state’s juvenile justice system to hold older youths until age 19, a move that advocates hope will lower the number of teens transferred into adult court.
House Bill 2356, according to a fact sheet issued by the Children’s Action Alliance (CAA), “allows the juvenile court to retain jurisdiction over a juvenile who is at least 17 years old and who has been adjudicated delinquent until the person reaches 19 years old. This bill will prevent many older youths with less serious offenses from being prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system.”
Under current Arizona law, the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections’ (ADJC) can only hold a youth in its secure facilities or on its probation roster until the age of 18. About 42 percent of the youths committed to AJDC facilities are 17 years of age, according to the most recent state data.
Likely fearing a short window of custody, prosecutors in the state will sometimes wait until a youth turns 18 to file charges so that the case originates in adult court. According to Beth Rosenberg, CAA’s director of child welfare and juvenile justice, Maricopa County prosecutors believe there were 200 cases last year that they may have filed in the juvenile system if HB 2356 had been in place.
While Arizona’s child welfare system has been beleaguered in recent years by skyrocketing entries into foster care, AJDC has seen a steady and significant decline in its juvenile population. The agency held about 1,000 youth in juvenile prisons and residential centers in the 1990s. That total had dropped to 400 by 2011, at which point the state was closing many of its largest facilities.
As of January 2018, 173 youth were under ADJC’s watch in secure care facilities, with another 168 under agency-monitored community supervision.