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Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Legislation to Reduce the Detention of Juveniles

This piece originally appeared on EIN News.

Today, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB21-071, a bill that will work to reduce juvenile incarceration and eliminate cash bail for kids.

Specifically, the bill reduces the maximum number of juvenile detention beds managed by the Colorado Department of Human Services from 327 to 188 and prohibits the use of cash bail on juveniles charged with or accused of committing a delinquent act.

“Forcing juveniles to await trial for months on end because they cannot afford bail is unconscionable. Ability to pay should never determine someone’s freedom,” said bill sponsor, Sen. Janet Buckner (D-Aurora). “We need to create a more effective system that supports and rehabilitates our youth rather than simply punishes them. With this bill, we are reducing the long-term and harmful costs associated with youth incarceration while providing an avenue for kids to re-enter their communities safely.”

Despite the lowest youth crime rates in decades, nearly a thousand young people are locked away every year in Colorado – about 70 percent of which are detained for nonviolent offenses.

Detention centers are intended to temporarily house youth who pose a notable risk to the community, but the nation’s use of detention is increasing, and facilities are packed with young people who do not meet those high-risk criteria.

Existing literature on longitudinal health effects of youth incarceration suggests that any incarceration during adolescence or young adulthood is associated with worse general health, employment opportunities, and mental well-being. 

According to A Justice Policy Institute Report

“Detained youth, who are frequently pre-adjudication and awaiting their court date... can spend anywhere from a few days to a few months in locked custody. At best, detained youth are physically and emotionally separated from the families and communities who are the most invested in their recovery and success. Often, detained youth are housed in overcrowded, understaffed facilities—an environment that conspires to breed neglect and violence.” 

Detention also disproportionately affects youth of color in Colorado. With Black youth four times as likely and Latinx youth twice as likely as white youth to be detained, current detention policies and practices reinforce systemic racism and institutionalized discrimination.  

The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.

This piece originally appeared on EIN News.



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