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Washington Passes Bill Diverting Youth from Justice System

March 27, 2018
Josh Gordon


Until the passage of SB 6550 in Washington State, prosecutors were severely limited in their ability to divert youth from the justice system.  But thanks to the advocacy of NJJN member TeamChild, Washington recently passed SB 6550, which revises the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977.  The bill expands the types of cases for which youth are eligible for diversion from the justice system, while at the same time broadening community-based options and facilitating record sealing for youth whose cases have been diverted. As a result, youth in the state of Washington will receive services closer to home, which research shows decreases recidivism yielding better outcomes and increased public safety.  Such changes are all crucial steps to ensure the fair and effective treatment of youth in the justice system.

Anne Lee, TeamChild Executive Director says, “this is a victory for Washington's youth who will now have more opportunities and second chances to learn, grow and thrive without the harms and stigma of court involvement.”  

SB 6550 revises the Juvenile Justice Act of 1977 to do the following:

  • Gives prosecutors more discretion to file or divert cases, including removing the limit on the number of cases that can be diverted.
  • Maintains the requirement that prosecutors file cases in juvenile court for sex offenses, serious violent offenses, and violent offenses. Gives discretion to prosecutors to file or divert assaults in the second degree or robberies in the second degree.

  • Expands diversion options to a broader array of community-based programs including those focused on positive youth development and restorative practices and encourages engagement with these programs
  • Provides consistency with current record sealing law by stating that juvenile records are eligible for destruction when the diversion has been successfully completed.  

George Yeannakis, TeamChild Special Counsel, strongly believes “these amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act will go a long way to help our young people get on the right track.”

How was this victory possible?

Lee says expanding diversion was a high priority arising from the work of a consortium of community mentors poised to provide meaningful community based supports for youth charged with serious offenses. In addition, the county prosecutor was very interested in finding a diversion pathway for more serious felonies and for first time gun offenses. Unfortunately, the state law prevented prosecutors from pre filing diversion of these types of offenses, so TeamChild set their sights on trying to expand the diversion statute.

“This past year, our legislative champions jumped on the opportunity to move forward many youth justice reform bills...,” Lee states. “We responded to this invitation to work on diversion, and worked with the mentor consortium and prosecutor to fine tune bill language and build support for the effort. This bill took an unusual rapid trajectory through the Senate and the House. One of the key pieces of advocacy involved working with the state prosecuting attorney association to address its member's concerns. We struck a compromise and the bill moved through the last stages with no amendments and some bipartisan support.”

TeamChild consulted with over 20 agencies and individuals in developing the bill. The group included prosecutors, judges, defenders, law professors, youth support agencies, police departments, public schools and legislators.

What's next for TeamChild?

Lee says, “with the passage of this legislation, we're fired up to work with local (county-level) partners to build a robust array of community based diversion options so youth do not get routed into juvenile detention and juvenile court. We are also looking at a number of opportunities at the state and local level to get funding/resources aligned and pushed into community-designed diversion programs.”

For more information on how diversion works, read NJJN’s snapshot on diversion here.

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