BOSTON — The House unanimously passed legislation Wednesday that would move 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts, ending the practice of routinely incarcerating 17-year-olds in adult corrections facilities.
“I’ll be the first to tell you that young adults at those ages don’t always make the right decisions,” said Rep. Brad Hill (R-Ipswich), a father who coaches high school basketball and said the change would help relieve some of the stress on prisons as well. He said, “Our prisons right now are so overcrowded that they are bursting at the seams.”
If it becomes law, the change will head off a new federal law set to go into effect in August that would require those under 18 to be segregated from the rest of the inmate population at adult corrections facilities, according to lawmakers.
The bill (H 1432) now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
Massachusetts is in the minority in the country, as 38 states, Washington D.C. and the federal government recognize the age of 18 as the age of “majority,” said House Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea).
Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton), who co-sponsored the legislation with Hill, said the juvenile court expects additional cases with passage of the bill, but the court system will be able to handle that.
The Department of Youth Services will soon be without a commissioner, as Commissioner Edward Dolan was recently appointed commissioner of probation by the Trial Court, with a June 10 start date. Executive Office of Health and Human Services spokesman Alec Loftus told the News Service, “We expect to have an announcement soon.”
Gov. Deval Patrick had proposed his own juvenile justice reform bill (H 52), which also would place 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. Patrick’s bill would also eliminate the mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles convicted of first degree murder, which he said is keeping with a recent Supreme Court decision, and other sentencing changes.