Delaware’s legislators have introduced a bill package designed to draw a clear line between the juvenile justice and adult criminal justice systems. The bills included in this package will create or restore juvenile justice practices that put the interest of children above the interest of conviction.
Children make mistakes; it’s part of growing up. Even when those mistakes are big, children deserve the chance to recognize and learn from their missteps and they certainly deserve the opportunity to make changes before punitive action that could define the rest of their lives.
- Download this one-page explainer and share with your friends, family and community members.
- Share this social media post urging your networks to contact their reps. Don't forget to use the #JuvenileJustice hashtag!
- Write, email, call, or tweet your legislators in support of the Juvenile Justice Bill Package. You can find your legislators' info here.
- Sample script: “Hi! My name is ________________ and I’m a constituent in your district. I’m [writing/calling] to ask you to vote “yes” on all of the bills listed in the Juvenile Justice Bill Package. It’s our job as adults and decision-makers to ensure that Delaware’s children are given every opportunity to succeed – even if that means giving them a chance to turn their behavior around when they’ve made a mistake. It’s up to you and your colleagues to see these pieces of legislation through the ladder. All of Delaware’s kids are counting on you, and I am, too.”
SB 146: Expedited Arrest Record Expungement
Currently, getting a juvenile felony arrest record expunged can be a barrier-riddled process – even if the juvenile was never found delinquent of the felony charge. This bill would provide Delaware Family Court the option to immediately expunge a felony arrest record if a child is found not delinquent or the charge is dismissed, eliminating the need for a separate application and proceeding. This immediate expungement process is already allowed for misdemeanor and violation cases.
HB 7: Limited Public Release of Juvenile Information
This bill raises the age where a child’s arrest information, such as their name and mug shot, may be released by the state. Currently, children as young as 13 can have their personal information and mug shots released to the public for felony and class A misdemeanor charges. This bill would raise that age to 16. The bill also limits the posting of this information on social media pages. These guidelines bring Delaware into the 21st century, while maintaining a balance between the public’s right to know and a child’s right to privacy.
HB 305: Eliminating Harsher Adult Sentences Based on Juvenile Adjudication
Delaware Code Title 10, Chapter 9 § 1002 states that, “…no child shall be deemed a criminal by virtue of an allegation or adjudication of delinquency …” but there is one provision in the Delaware Code that is a direct contradiction to this mandate. House Bill 305 seeks to rectify that issue. The proposed legislation eliminates language that allows a juvenile adjudication (finding of delinquency) to be used to make the potential prison sentence longer when an adult faces certain drug offenses.
HB 306: Family Court to Superior Court – Raising the Age and Making it Discretionary
If this bill is passed, Delaware will no longer mandate that a child must be prosecuted as an adult if they were in possession of a firearm while committing a felony. To be clear, possessing a firearm is a serious matter. However, it should not mean that children aged 15 to 17 must be tried and sentenced as adults in every instance. This provision, as currently written, gives extreme power to prosecutors in matters that can seriously and dramatically alter a child’s future. This decision should be made by a judge according to the facts and circumstances of each case.
HB 307: Eliminate or Reduce Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Juveniles
This bill would eliminate or reduce mandatory minimums in the Delaware Family Court, leaving the judge to decide on a case-by-case basis how children should be sentenced. Nationwide, there is recognition that minimum mandatory sentencing is a failed policy, and HB 307 would allow the Family Court the discretion to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, and tailoring the length of sentence to the facts and circumstances in each case.
HB 308: Extend the Civil Citation Program
Under the civil citation program, law enforcement has the discretion to issue a civil citation to a child rather than making a criminal charge for certain minor offenses, such as underage alcohol consumption, shoplifting, trespass, loitering, and possession of small amounts of marijuana. The civil citation program will end this year if no legislative action is taken to preserve it. This bill would make the program a permanent part of Delaware law.
HB 339 - Delay Transfer from Juvenile Detention to Adult Corrections
Currently, Delaware allows children charged with adult offenses to be held without bail in the custody of the Department of Corrections rather than a juvenile detention facility. House Bill 339 would prevent children under the age of 18 who are charged as adults from being transferred to the Department of Corrections unless and until the child pleads or is found guilty and sentenced to incarceration. The trend nationwide is to hold juveniles charged with adult offenses in juvenile facilities pretrial, as these facilities provide educational and rehabilitative programs.
- SB 146 was signed by the Governor.
- HB 7 did not make it to the House floor for a vote.
- HB 305 did not make it to the House floor for a vote.
- HB 306 was signed by the Governor.
- HB 307 was signed by the Governor.
- HB 308 was signed by the Governor.
- HB 339 was signed by the Governor.