Juvenile Justice Officials Testify in Favor of Raising Age of Criminality in Massachusetts

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The Massachusetts State House

Tony Fischer Photography

This week, numerous legislators and juvenile justice officials testified before Massachusetts’ Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, in support of recent legislative proposals that would place 18-year-olds under the jurisdiction of the state’s juvenile courts as opposed to its adult courtrooms.

“The brain of a 17-year-old is still in its developmental stage,” Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Michael Edgerton is quoted by The Boston Globe. Alongside other reform supporters, he argued that the likelihood of juvenile offenders successfully rehabilitating is much higher than that of adults.

Peter Koutoujian, Sheriff of Middlesex County, said that recent research does not indicate that sentencing young people as adults serves as an effective crime deterrent. Additionally, he said that young people imprisoned alongside adults are more likely to re-offend and are also likelier to experience sexual abuse or commit suicide.

While Bill S. 26 -- proposed by state Sen. Karen Spilka, a Democrat representing Massachusetts’ Second Middlesex and Norfolk Districts -- seeks to expand juvenile court jurisdiction, the measure does not touch upon the issue of sentencing reforms; similarly, the bill would not prevent juvenile offenders who commit violent offenses from being tried as adults in the state’s courtrooms.

Earlier this year, Gov. Deval Patrick introduced “An Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System in the Commonwealth,” a legislative proposal that similarly sought to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Massachusetts for most non-violent offenses. Referred to the committee on the Judiciary in late January, the state Senate voted to approve amendments to the bill in early February.

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