Six years after Massachusetts lawmakers raised the upper age limit for juvenile court cases to 17, a legislative task force is studying whether to join Vermont in raising the age further, to as high as 20, except in certain violent crimes, Commonwealth Magazine reports.
The state Senate passed a provision to raise the age as part of a criminal justice reform debate last session, but it was dropped in negotiations with the House. Instead, legislators ordered up the task force study, which is due to be completed July 1.
Criminal justice reform advocates say the “emerging adult” population, which encompasses younger adults still in the midst of neurological development, can be better served in the juvenile system than by being sent into the adult prison population.
The task force is also looking at how to tailor the adult criminal justice system to the science showing brain development continues well into people’s 20s. Newly elected Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, for example, points to a new program that the county’s sheriff started at the South Bay House of Correction creating a cellblock with programming structured around reducing recidivism for offenders under 25, with corrections officers trained in intervening in conflicts before resorting to traditional measures.