From ACLU Washington’s 2020 report, About Time: How Long and Life Sentences Fuel Mass Incarceration:
“Auto-Decline: Sending Youth to Adult Court – and Prison
According to a study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP), about 1,300 Washington youth were convicted in the adult system under the automatic decline law between 1994 and 2012. Using a number of different methods and analytic strategies, WSIPP researchers analyzed how automatic decline affected youth recidivism rates. The results show that recidivism rates are higher for youth who are automatically transferred to the adult system than for otherwise similar youth who are retained in the juvenile system.
In 1994, the Washington State Legislature passed the Youth Violence Reduction Act. Under this legislation, 16 and 17 year old children charged with certain felonies are automatically “declined” in the juvenile system and sent to adult courts.70 In 1997, the legislature revised the automatic transfer criteria, adding a number of offenses that trigger the automatic transfer of 16 and 17 year old children to the adult courts and, if convicted, to state prisons.
Transferring youth to the adult system thus undermines public safety, according to WSIPP. At the same time, there is abundant evidence that incarcerating adolescents in general, and especially in adult prisons, is harmful to their well-being. For example, one study found that, “Compared with offenders confined in juvenile facilities, juveniles in adult prison are eight times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and almost twice as likely to be attacked with a weapon by inmates and beaten by staff.” Auto-decline laws thus subject troubled adolescents to harsher conditions of confinement. This exacerbates the already-high level of trauma with which these young people contend, and also undermines public safety.
In March of 2018, the Washington legislature enacted, and the Governor signed,
Senate Bill 6160. This legislation removes five offenses from the list of crimes that automatically trigger youths’ transfer to the adult courts, but also extends juvenile jurisdiction over children convicted of those crimes
until they reach the age of 25.Thus, while children convicted of these five offenses are no longer automatically transferred to the adult system, they are now likely to spend significantly longer behind bars for those offenses. Because
confinement in juvenile institutions has also been shown to be damaging to children, and because many will now spend more time behind bars, it is unlikely that this legislation will improve either the well-being of young adults or
public safety.” (
Jay Inslee: Statewide Auto-Decline Moratorium
State Legislature 2021: Pass SB5122 on Juvenile Court Jurisdiction
State Legislature 2022: Pass Legislation Abolishing Auto Decline
*See sample letter below
We’re not using automated contact forms; they are easier, but they are also easier to ignore because contacting our representatives is more effective when we contact them individually. You can use this sample email as a guide, and feel free to change it, or write your own.
Subject: Auto-Decline Moratorium Now
Dear Governor Inslee,
I am writing to urge you to declare a moratorium on Auto-Decline. Sending kids to adult courts and prison is cruel and racist: it is disproportionately used for Black and Brown children. These policies make decisions made in youth virtual lifelong sentences, when science is clear that young peoples’ brains are still in development until age 26. But we know that because of this, young offenders are especially successful in rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration. The incarceration system has been proven to be a failure to everyone: offenders, victims, community, public safety and tax payers. We need rehabilitative justice alternatives, not the failed policies of incarceration, and especially for children. Please take a stand against this unconscionable, failed and racist policy.