A task force created under the criminal justice law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in March will be able to look northwest to Vermont as it studies the juvenile court system here.
Among several other measures, the law included reforms to how Massachusetts courts deal with children, teenagers and young adults, such as making certain crimes committed by offenders up to age 21 eligible for expungement and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12.
The final legislation did not include Senate-backed language to increase the age of juvenile court jurisdiction one year to include 18-year-olds, instead creating a task force to study the treatment of individuals aged between 18 to 24 in the courts and correctional system, and evaluate “the advisability, feasibility and impact of changing the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to defendants younger than 21 years of age.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on May 30 signed a law that will gradually expand the jurisdiction of his state’s family division courts so that 18- and 19-year-olds are included in the juvenile system by July 2022.
Vermont is the first state to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction above 18, according to Citizens for Juvenile Justice.
“This is such an important reform. I had hoped that Massachusetts would be the first, but we look forward to learning from Vermont’s experience as we move forward,” said Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat, said in a statement.
A 2013 Massachusetts law brought 17-year-olds into the juvenile court system, which had previously served youth age 16 and under.
According to Citizens for Juvenile Justice, which backed the effort to include 17-year-olds, juvenile crime has declined 34 percent since that change became law.
Bringing 18- to 20-year-olds into the juvenile system as well would lower recidivism by giving that population better access to educational and rehabilitation programming, diversion programs and court record confidentiality, said Hannah Legerton, emerging adult justice project coordinator at CfJJ.
Creem, Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, and Reps. Kay Khan and Evandro Carvalho all filed bills this session to raise the juvenile court age.
“When we raised the age in Massachusetts to include 17-year-olds in the juvenile system we found that the cost of implementation was far lower than predicted,” said Khan, a Newton Democrat. “Notably, after we raised the age, we saw even faster declines in juvenile arrests for violent and property crime than the national average. There is every reason to expect that we would see similar results if we included 18- to 20-year-olds. Hopefully we can follow Vermont’s example as we move forward.”
Carvalho, a Dorchester Democrat now running for Suffolk County district attorney, said in a statement that it was “a common thing to get arrested for relatively minor misbehavior at Madison Park High School in Roxbury when I was a student there.” He said a higher age of juvenile jurisdiction “will benefit communities like mine, where we are quick to invest in heavy policing and slow to invest in education and other essentials to youth success.”