Gov. Inslee signs bill to limit number of youth in adult court

Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today, which restricts the use of “auto-decline” in Washington state.

Under state law, 16- or 17-year-old youth who are charged with certain offenses are automatically sent to adult court for adjudication of their cases. Under this process, known as “auto-decline,” the youth is not given the opportunity to appear before a judge to determine whether the case would be more appropriately addressed in the juvenile court.

“The legislation is beginning to reject the basis for which auto-decline was created, and instead recognize that the rehabilitative setting of the juvenile court system is the more appropriate environment for youth affected by this bill,” said Nick Allen, a directing attorney at Columbia Legal Services.

While the bill keeps more young people in the juvenile court system, it also extends juvenile jurisdiction for youth adjudicated delinquent of more of the offenses addressed to age 25.

Additionally, it amends the juvenile sentencing grid to allow for longer sentences for youth adjudicated delinquent of these offenses.

“While the rollback of auto-declinable offenses and extension of juvenile jurisdiction are innovative and groundbreaking, the increase in sentence length and enhancements are extreme and regressive policies, especially when considering that there is no evidence that these types of provisions contribute to the rehabilitation of youth or increase public safety,” said Allen.

The bill will be monitored in its implementation and outcomes. A report on this assessment is due in 2023.