A judge on Wednesday rejected a county prosecutor's petition to incarcerate a 13-year-old in a state facility.
The boy would have been just the second 13-year-old in the Division of Juvenile Justice in the last five years, according to Yuba County Superior Court Judge Debra Givens. The average age of offenders in the custody of the Juvenile Justice is almost 19.
"You have to come up with better than knee-jerk responses than sending a 13-year-old to DJJ," Givens said to Deputy District Attorney Mike Byrne.
The boy will instead be sent to a group home.
In her decision, Givens cited reforms to the juvenile justice system, including the Juvenile Justice Realignment Bill signed in 2007, which contributed to decreased population in state facilities. The population decreased from 6,772, at its peak in the mid-1990s to 705, Givens said.
She announced her decision in a hearing continued from Monday to allow her time to review case history. She is tasked with balancing the juvenile justice system's goals of rehabilitating youthful offenders and promoting public safety.
The boy's attorney, Mark Woods, agreed with the Yuba County Probation Department in its request the boy be sent to a group home that could provide more structure than his grandparents, his current guardians, are able to provide.
Juvenile justice realig ment directs judges to incarcerate only the most serious offenders in the state Division of Juvenile Justice.
None of the boy's crimes falls in the top four categories of serious offenses, which include murder, rape in concert, robbery with a firearm, and other charges, which Givens read aloud.
The boy admitted he participated in a gang-related robbery, during which he stole a bicycle and hit someone. He has been in and out of juvenile hall, and at least 13 counts have been filed against him, raising concern for public safety.
"There is a problem in the community," Givens said, "but I took an oath to uphold the law."
Juvenile court is obligated to provide treatment, care and guidance, she said. The Children's System of Care — a multi-agency case management system — provided a single plan of intervening services to the boy, but unfortunately that didn't work, she said.
Byrne had petitioned the court to send the boy to the state facility, which he argued would provide both treatment for the boy and protection for the public.
Givens said the request was counter to the law, and that "it's frightening" he would make such a request given his authority.
"I am going to follow the law, if the petitioner does not agree with the law, the place to deal with that is the Legislature," she said.
The boy's behavior in juvenile hall has been good and he receives high grades in school, Givens said.
Givens said the boy suffered abuse for years and other counties failed to intervene and provide the services needed.
"He is somebody that deserves to be treated fairly under the law," she said of the boy.
To be returned to his guardians, the boy was ordered to cooperate with the home placement and cease delinquent behavior. Requests were made of his guardians as well.
"You can do it," Givens said to the boy. "I want you to be successful, not only on probation, for the rest of your life."
CONTACT reporter Monica Vaughan at 749-4783 and on Twitter @MonicaLVaughan.