2020 Bills

HB 262: Keeping Children Out of State Detention

This bill passed the house with a 48-23 vote, and passed out of the senate unanimously.

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it is aligned with our principles and merits support.

“One of the first things he asked in detention was, ‘Jill, when’s recess?’ I will be honest that broke my heart. This is a ten-year-old and that’s what he thinks ahead to.” These are the words of Jill McKinlay describing just one of her experiences working with troubled children at the Southwest Utah Youth Center. When elementary-aged children find themselves in legal trouble, it’s a tricky situation to handle. But one thing is clear: detaining children in state custody is not the solution.

Representative Craig Hall is sponsoring House Bill 262 to prohibit the prosecution of children who are 12 years of age or younger. Under the bill, the state will retain its ability to detain children involved in more serious crimes that are violent or involve sexual assault, for example. But for other lower-level crimes, children would be kept out of the court system, and in their homes. This way, the state can address the problems with other mechanisms such as therapy, specialized education, or health services.

In 2019, there were 64 youth admissions to locked detention in Utah. This can be detrimental and traumatic for all children, and the disproportionality of race is shocking. Overall, black youth are 7 times more likely to be admitted to detention in comparison to white youth. This bill will help solve this problem by ensuring most children offenders will stay out of detention in Utah.

Many youth in the juvenile justice system have underlying issues that can be better addressed in the home with the support of their family and state services. To understand the mindset of these justice-involved children, it’s important to recognize that up to 90% report exposure to some type of traumatic event. And on average, 70% are living with a mental health disorder.