Utah passes bill to reduce criminal prosecution of children

Utah Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, date unspecified| Photo by AndreyKrav/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah House of Representatives has passed a bill to reduce the prosecution and incarceration of young children and instead connect them with counseling.

The House passed the legislation Tuesday that would end prosecution of children younger than 12 and direct them into mental health treatment, parental counseling and other services.

The measure is intended at keeping the children engaged with their families and lower state costs by reducing the number of incarcerations.

The bill would not apply to minors accused of serious offenses including murder, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson and aggravated kidnapping.

Children could also be prosecuted for failing to participate in rehabilitation.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the measure last week.

“We know that youths in their minds and their brains are different than adults, so the system should be different than the adult system,” said Republican Rep. Craig Hall, who sponsored the bill.

Utah would follow 22 states that already have minimum ages for prosecution, Hall said.

Republican Rep. Val Potter questioned the source of the rehabilitation funding.

Rather than costing additional money, the measure would have a “positive fiscal note” because the state would carry out fewer prosecutions and incarcerations, Hall said.

There were 77 cases in which children 11 and under were prosecuted in 2018, Hall said.

Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson asked how the bill would differ from current law.

“I don’t know that we need an age cutoff,” Nelson said, noting that many serious crimes are committed before age 11 and 12, especially child sexual abuse.

“We should not just be concerned about the capacity to commit a crime, we should also care about the risk of an individual committing another crime,” Nelson added.

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