Move juvenile court age up to 21, three prosecutors say

  • District Attorney David Sullivan, center, along with Senator Jo Comerford, left, and Senator Adam Hinds talk at a School-Based Restorative Practice meeting at the Olver Transit Center. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

State House News Service
Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Three county prosecutors are calling on lawmakers to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include defendants between the ages of 18 and 21.

Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, in a statement distributed by the national prosecutors’ network Fair and Just Prosecution, said such a move would create a safer, fairer and more developmentally appropriate justice system.

A 2013 state law brought 17-year-olds into the juvenile court system, which had previously served youths age 16 and under. A task force, chaired by Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Paul Tucker, is studying whether it would make sense to further raise the age. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan serves on that panel.

“We’ve learned over the past three decades that tough-on-crime approaches rarely work, and in no population other than emerging adults, aged 18 to 24, is this more evident,” Rollins said in the statement. “The record shows that young people treated in the juvenile justice system fare better and the community becomes safer.”

Said Sullivan, “It’s time to learn from science and experience to implement strategies aimed at rehabilitation rather that harsh punishment and retribution.”

Harrington said the juvenile system “provides a better pathway forward by looking at youth more holistically in the context of their family, school and community.”

Juvenile Court Chief Justice Amy Nechtem this week said expanding the juvenile justice system beyond the age of 17 would not be a good match for the court.

“Much of our work in the juvenile court relies on the participation of parents and guardians and others that will surround the child, support the child with ongoing success in the community,” Nechtem said. “Very different from an adult that will come into a family-centered juvenile court, and our oversight on this young person will be absolutely different from what is happening for the younger. Their needs are different and their presence in the community is different, so it is, in my opinion, not a match for the juvenile court, I say respectfully.”