April 5, 2017: KCRA NBC-TV - Bill aims to keep children under 12 out of juvenile hall

April 05, 2017

A bill that would keep children under 12 out of juvenile hall and get them into rehabilitation programs moved forward in the California Senate Tuesday. The legislation has the support of Michael Rizo, who got in trouble with the law at a young age.

Walking through a West Sacramento neighborhood brings up difficult memories for Rizo. When he was 11, Rizo used to steal from his neighbors.

“I used to hop my neighbor’s fence to go steal cigarettes from their backyard and prescription medication,” he recalled.

Rizo said he often succumbed to peer pressure when he committed the crimes. When he was sent to juvenile hall, Rizo said the older kids praised him for breaking the law.

That praise and attention became a cycle.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, wants to end that cycle among California youth. She said often times children who commit heinous crimes are victims of crime themselves.

That's why Mitchell introduced Senate Bill 439, which aims to rehabilitate children under 12 years old outside of the juvenile justice system and focuses on the root cause of their behavior.

“We really question whether or not it’s appropriate to expect a 10- or 11-year-old to fundamentally expect to understand the impact of their actions,” Mitchell said. “The whole point of the bill is not to say, 'Send them home' or 'Let them stay home.' The whole point of the bill is to make sure that we redirect them from delinquency to dependency.”

However, former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said it's a bad idea.

"I don't doubt her intentions are good," McGinness said. "But think about this for a moment, would this entice or motivate people? Perhaps you're an 18-year-old gang member, and you want to have somebody else carry the gun, carry the dope -- maybe even execute the crime."

SB 439 wouldn't keep all juvenile suspects out of jail. Children who do need a restrictive or locked facility would be put into a group home-type facility.

The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee in a 5-1 vote Tuesday and now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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