Massachusetts now includes 17-year-olds in its juvenile justice system. Only 10 states remain which place 17-year-olds under adult court jurisdiction.
Although 17-year-olds who commit violent crimes will be placed in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system, judges still have the discretion to sentence them as adults.
It’s an important move in the right direction for the state, advocates say.
“I am very pleased and I think it’s very long overdue,” said Gail Garinger, director of Massachusetts’ Office of the Child Advocate. “As a juvenile court judge, I absolutely never understood why we had a cutoff at 17. It just didn’t seem consistent with any other statute or anything else I knew about adolescence in terms of what other states were doing.”
Naoka Carey, executive director of the Boston-based Citizens for Juvenile Justice, agrees.
“It’s great to think there are kids that will be going into the juvenile system now, that I think really should have been going there before,” she said.
Nevertheless, because the new law takes effect immediately, that raises some questions about process, Garinger said.
“If the juvenile committed an offense, allegedly, before the passage of the act, but no complaint had been filed yet, is there a possibility that the law will apply from the date of the filing of the application of the complaint rather than the date of the offense?” she said.