SEATTLE - About 5 percent of kids behind bars end up in the state juvenile rehabilitation facility. These are kids convicted of serious crimes in adult court, such as 1st degree robbery, manslaughter, murder, and gang shootings.
Under the current law, they’ve been kicked over to adult prison at 18 or 21 years old. But now, a new bill just passed by the Legislature will keep them in a juvenile rehabilitation facility until they’re 25.
Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, admitted he had concerns when he looked at an Oregon law a few years ago, and learned they were keeping their younger offenders in juvenile lock up until they turn 25.
“If a 23 or 24-year-old is a bad influence on the 18 or 19-year-old,” he said. “But we found exactly the opposite, that those youth who have committed some pretty serious crimes, if they’re kept in the rehabilitative setting, they really start to turn their lives around.”
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“Instead of a bad influence, they’re positive mentors,” he added.
Armed with that knowledge, Rep. Goodman got to work on the bill to establish that policy here in Washington, and it was approved by the Legislature this year.
Goodman said that keeping these young offenders in juvenile rehabilitation until they’re 25 also avoids the downside of sending them to adult prison.
“If you put a 21, 22-year-old in prison with adults, that person’s life is done, because there’s no rehabilitative focus, they continue to be impulsive,” he noted. “So we want to give these kids a helping hand.”
Goodman pointed out that allowing them to remain in a juvenile facility for longer also protects public safety, citing data that shows it lowers re-offense rates, “turns their lives around, reduces crime, [and] reduces public cost.”
“It’s all good,” he said.
Republican Rep. Morgan Irwin, who is also a Seattle police officer, admits he had concerns about keeping young offenders in the state’s juvenile rehabilitation facility until they’re 25.
“It makes you incredibly nervous to say ‘wait a second, you’re going to have a 24-year-old in the same prison as a 15-year-old?’ That’s a man fighting a boy,” Irwin pointed out.
Eventually, though, Rep. Irwin came around.
“The Department of Corrections staff can at any time transfer somebody out,” he said. “There’s a massive incentive for behavior for the folks that are over the age of 21 to really toe the line. In fact, they have an even better reason to act correctly, and try to focus on their own therapy, because if they don’t, then they’re out.”
“I believe in giving people a reason to stay clean — if we can still hold people accountable but give them a path forward, everybody wins there,” Irwin concluded.