DENVER (KDVR) — A proposed bipartisan bill that would no longer allow children 12 and under to be prosecuted for crimes has stirred a fiery controversy.
House Bill 23-1249 upset some police chiefs so much, they showed up at the Colorado Capitol on Wednesday, pleading with lawmakers not to move forward with the measure. There were also parents pleading with lawmakers, saying the bill would be a huge mistake.
The bill changes the minimum age a child can be prosecuted by a juvenile court. Currently, if a 10-year-old child commits a crime, they can be prosecuted in juvenile court.
But if the bill passes, kids 10 to 12 would no longer be required to go before a judge in juvenile court.
Police in Aurora and the city’s mayor, along with other police chiefs, are staunchly against the bill. Some of them say it would encourage adults to have children do their dirty work.
“The adults started figuring out that they can go to jail, but young kids can’t. So they were starting to use kids as their runners to take their drugs, because at that time, the law was not allowing them to touch kids,” Aurora Police Commander Robert Jackson said.
Bipartisan supporters seek change in system for children
The bill’s sponsors say keeping the youngest of kids out of the juvenile court system would help improve their lives. The change, supporters say, would replace their involvement with the justice system with community-based services.
“It’s not something that’s going to get kids out of trouble or make them an easy target to commit crimes, because it’s offering a different methodology behind accountability for those kids,” said District 64 state Rep. Ryan Armagost, R-Larimer and Weld.
But a couple, whose child was victimized by an 11-year-old in Colorado Springs, said tough laws are needed for the youngest of children. Erica Oosthoek and Ian Pousch say the child charged for hurting their child, even under current laws, is not being held accountable.
“This new piece of legislation would remove any teeth that the people of Colorado have to force that,” Poush said.
“There’s just no one to force anything. If this bill does pass, there’s a referral given. Who enforces a referral if there are no charges filed?” Oosthoek said.
The bill proposes sending the youngest of offenders to a collaborative management program.
Oosthoek and Pousch said that’s just not enough as they battle to protect their child from the youngest of offenders.
The bill was still being debated Thursday in the Senate.