DENVER — Aurora’s top cop and other police chiefs spoke out Thursday against a measure that would all-but end kids younger than 13 being charged with crimes in Colorado.
Current state law allows kids as young as 10 to be arrested and face criminal charges.
“We've all talked about the criminalization of adolescent behavior,” Acevedo said. “Unfortunately, if you end up in the juvenile detention in this state, you're not engaging in juvenile behavior, OK? You're not going and being held for going on a joyride with grandma's car.
“You’re shooting people, you're doing a lot of things,” he said.
Under House Bill 1249, 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds would be removed from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court system. Instead, they would be funneled into what’s called a “collaborative management program,” which could include things like therapy or family counseling.
The bill’s proponents want to keep those juveniles out of jail and give them a chance to get treatment and turn away from crime.
The only exception would be for kids who kill someone.
But Acevedo and others – including a woman whose child was sexually assaulted by a juvenile and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman – said removing the possibility of criminal charges would take away an important measure of accountability.
“It does not send a good message to our 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old children who we teach from a very young age that things are right, and things are wrong, and things have consequences – and this bill does not promote that at all,” said Erica Oosthoek, whose was victimized by a boy younger than 13. “A 10-, 11-, or 12-year-old child cannot rape another child and have no consequences. This is absolutely ludicrous. And we are not at the point where this can be passed right now.”
They also said that the possibility of a criminal conviction is an important incentive for juveniles to follow through on counseling and other treatment that is court-ordered.
In its current form, the bill’s only recourse for a juvenile who didn’t complete the collaborative management program would be to refer that child to the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS).
“Let's call it front end – back end,” Coffman said. “So, the front end is that this juvenile committing a crime and the consequences for the crime. And then the back end is what programs do we establish to help that … offender turn his or her life around?”
By taking out the “consequences of the front end, there is no back end,” he said.
Acevedo also said that he believes older juveniles – and even adults – “seduce” younger kids into carrying out crimes for them. If there’s no possibility of criminal charges, he said that’s likely to get worse.
“We need to invest in kids on the front end. We need to invest in kids before they get seduced,” Acevedo said. “We need to invest in after school programs and tutoring programs and summer programs with job programs.”
The measure was up for second reading in the Colorado Senate on Thursday. After some debate, it was laid over until Friday.
Acevedo said he hopes the bill dies, or – if it passes – that Gov. Jared Polis vetoes it. At that point, he said, he wants legislators to work with law officers, prosecutors, social workers, educators and other experts to draft a comprehensive overhaul of the juvenile justice system that takes into account those various perspectives.
“We have not heard from enough people Colorado, and we certainly have not heard from all the stakeholders,” Acevedo said. “Our kids should not be an experiment. And they shouldn't be an afterthought. And they should not be half a thought. It should be a well-reasoned, well-debated, well-researched, well-funded, and well-thought out.”
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