Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Reform Could Shield 18-Year-Olds From Adult Courts

Massachusetts could soon become the first state in the union to raise the age of jurisdiction above 18.

The state’s House of Representatives this week, and Senate last month, passed by wide margins different versions of a criminal justice reform bill. Only the Senate proposal included the so-called raise-the-age provision, as well as a similar provision raising the age at which kids can be sent to juvenile court from 7 to 10.

The bills now must be reconciled before heading to the governor’s desk. Both bills would make it easier for some juvenile offenders to get parts of their offense records expunged. 

Raising the age of jurisdiction for state juvenile justice systems has been a priority for reform advocates nationwide. Since 2005, 36 states and Washington, D.C., have passed dozens of pieces of legislation that move young adults out of the adult criminal justice system, as documented in a report released last month by the advocacy group Campaign for Youth Justice.

In 2007, there were 14 states that still counted certain minors as adults without exception. By 2013, it was down to 10.

There are now just five states without laws in place that set the age of jurisdiction at 18: Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin. All five have legislative bills in the hopper to raise the age of jurisdiction to 18.

Massachusetts would be the first state to consider 18-year-olds, writ large, to be juveniles in the eyes of the law. “We have updated and improved our laws, made the system more equitable, and are giving people opportunities to rebuild their lives, while also ensuring public safety,” said state Rep. Claire Cronin, chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, to masslive.com.

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Michael Fitzgerald
About Michael Fitzgerald 29 Articles
Northeast Editor for The Chronicle of Social Change

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