Governor Deval Patrick today signed legislation that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18, opening up more opportunities for the Commonwealth's youth, at-risk population.
"I am proud to sign legislation that creates a better balance of holding our most violent offenders accountable, while giving our young people the opportunity for rehabilitation and reform that they deserve," said Governor Patrick. "We are working hard to make the investments in education and job training to close achievement gaps and give every child the opportunity to succeed. But whether we like it or not, some children still fall through the cracks and we must not give up on them."
The legislation, H. 1432 "An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction," expands the delinquency and youthful offender jurisdiction of the juvenile courts to include persons who commit crimes when they were younger than 18. The new law also provides for 17-year-olds to be ordered into the custody of the Department of Youth Services, rather than into an adult prison or jail. In the case of violent criminal activity, though, the Juvenile Court will retain the discretion to impose an adult sentence. The law also provides that 17-year-olds will no longer receive an adult criminal record and that they will benefit from other safeguards provided to juveniles. Raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 was one of the key provisions in the Governor's proposed, "Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System" filed in January.
"The majority of states and the federal government use 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction and other states are moving in that direction," said Gail Garinger, The Child Advocate for the Commonwealth. "The Governor and Legislature deserve credit for taking this important step in improving our juvenile justice system in Massachusetts."
"This bill acknowledges that the brain development and maturity of a 17-year-old are legally important factors in addressing antisocial behavior and that the capacity of juveniles for rehabilitation exceeds that of adults," said Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Michael F. Edgerton.
"We consider the age of 18 to be the mark of adulthood on so many matters however, under current law, 17-year-olds accused of a crime in Massachusetts are treated as adults, regardless of the circumstances," said Senate President Therese Murray. "This change will keep our youth out of adult facilities and provide them with age-appropriate resources and the opportunity for rehabilitation and reform."
H. 1432 was sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan.
"I have fought for many years to make this change a reality," said Senator Spilka. "Our juvenile justice system plays a critical role in helping youth offenders get back on track. Seventeen-year-olds are not adults -- they are developmentally much more like the younger teenagers in the system, and their crimes are often the same types of offenses. Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction will provide teenagers with the age-appropriate rehabilitation and support services they need for future success."
"We always talk about how important youth are, but our policies often fall short of our words," said Representative Khan. "Today, Massachusetts is taking an important step in the right direction. We decided that 17 is far too young to give up on a child. Now, thousands of kids who would have been lost to the adult system have a chance to grow into productive citizens."
"Here's a great side benefit: parents will now be alerted if their 17-year-old is arrested, which wasn't the case before," said Senator Mike Barrett.
"In my years as a State Representative I have advocated for juvenile justice reform which would include sealing or blocking from CORI a young person's juvenile indiscretions (absent rare and pre-existing exceptions)," said Representative Gloria Fox. "So I am proud to be a part of this passing of legislation that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 and block the CORI."
"H.1432, "An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction,' takes a step towards more humane and age-appropriate treatment of juvenile offenders," said Representative Liz Malia. "It should be noted that this bill is the result of solid bipartisan effort."
"This comprehensive legislation treats children as children and allows certain young offenders to be properly managed with the eventual goal to become productive members of society rather than a lifetime of cost to taxpayers," said Representative Paul McMurtry.
"As a former social worker, I have seen firsthand the detrimental effect of sentencing 17-year-olds as adults and housing them with the general population," said Representative James O'Day. "I am proud that we as a governing body have recognized this danger in the signing of the Juvenile Justice Bill today. With the passage of this legislation, we are giving all minors convicted of lesser crimes in the Commonwealth an equal chance at rehabilitation."
"Given research findings on adolescent development, I believe that the Commonwealth will benefit from housing 17-year-old offenders in juvenile correction facilities rather than the adult prison system," said Representative Alice Peisch. "This law now ensures that all incarcerated youth are able to receive age-appropriate services and brings the Commonwealth into compliance with federal regulations on the separation of younger prisoners from adults."