Some pushing for Mass. to raise the juvenile age to 19

Some pushing for Mass. to raise the juvenile age to 19

BOSTON — How young is too young to charge someone as an adult?

"The collateral consequences of adult system involvement is absolutely huge," said Leon Smith, Citizens for Juvenile Justice.

How can we improve the current adult prison system we have?

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Organizer James Mackey works in the community where the answers to these questions are the difference between life or death.

"I was a young person that caught a CORI at a young age, made a decision in my life and didn't know it would impact me later on down the road and how that definitely put a hold on my career," said Mackey.

The state task force of legislators, members of law enforcement, advocates, and doctors are working to answer those questions and present a proposal to the legislature early next year to raise the age for juvenile offenders from 17 to 18 — or even 20.

"Their rates of recidivism are higher than any other cohort in the criminal justice system. So what we need to do is recognize that we are not serving public safety, we are not surviving the victims if we continue to treat this population as we always have," said Sheriff Peter K.

Recent data from Columbia University's Justice Lab shows juvenile arrests are actually declining in Massachusetts.

Leon Smith is a former public defender and executive director for Citizens for Juvenile Engagement.

"We've heard from family engagement programming being offered. Education programming that's already being offered you have the capacity, you have the programming that we believe would do a better job of helping these young mistakes behind them and move on to much better outcomes," said Smith.

Before the governor's sweeping crime bill that created this task force was signed, nine district attorneys drafted a letter opposing raising the age for juvenile jurisdiction saying:

"...adopting a law that enables anyone to declare that ‘I am not responsible for my actions, my brain is!’ is something no rational parent would accept, and creates a slippery slope that cannot be limited to only those within a given age range."

District Attorney Marian Ryan says there's more information to consider.

"We are two years further into looking into some of this research. So, I think we face the same questions. We are much better armed in terms of information. Of course always the more information you have it sometimes becomes a more complex question," said Ryan.

James Mackey agrees and says there has to be more space in law enforcement for second chances.

"Does this person have a family? Do we want to have this person end up on the streets? If he ends up on the streets, what happens? So, if they don't have meaningful access to opportunity, then by any means they're gonna make sure they eat and so it's only right to do what's just," said Mackey.

The juvenile age is 19 in both Connecticut and Vermont.