On Wednesday, September 18, 2013, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation which raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years. The legislation, H. 1432 “An Act Expanding Juvenile Jurisdiction,” expands juvenile court jurisdiction to 17-year-olds accused of crimes, and also provides for them to be ordered into the custody of the Department of Youth Services rather than adult prison or jail. However, juvenile court judges have discretion to impose an adult sentence in cases involving extremely violent crimes. Additionally, the 17-year-olds will no longer receive an adult criminal record, and they will benefit from other safeguards provided to juveniles.
The official website of the Massachusetts Governor quoted Chief Justice of the Juvenile Court Michael F. Edgerton: “‘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.’” Another supporter, Representative Alice Peisch, also focused on the role of adolescent development: “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.” Further, she stated, “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.”
Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan sponsored H. 1432. Senator Spilka stated, “I have fought for many years to make this change a reality.” Moreover, “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.”
Massachusetts now joins thirty-nine other states and the federal government who use the age of 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction.
Photo: Iaritza Menjivar / Governor’s Office