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State lawmakers consider raising the age for juvenile offenders

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2024 | Juvenile Crimes |

Juveniles who commit criminal offenses typically don’t face the same types of courts and incarceration as adult offenders. It’s recognized that their brains aren’t yet fully developed, and they can easily be persuaded to do something illegal by adults and peers.

There have been steps taken in Massachusetts to provide relief to some young offenders. Currently, there’s a bill in the state legislature that would raise the maximum age at which a person is still considered a juvenile offender from 17 to 20. Further, a Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that no one under 21 can receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

An analysis by a group of lawmakers who support raising the age at which young people in the criminal justice system are considered adults from 18 to 21 found that Massachusetts “spends the most money with worst outcome for older teens.” Those between 18 and 20 have “the highest recidivism rate of any in the adult system, and double the recidivism of similar teens in the juvenile system.” Further, the “exposure to punitive environments like adult jails and prisons and more severe collateral consequences can actually increase offending.”

Some are pushing back on raising the age

With crimes like car theft on the rise – some of which are being carried out by teens – there are objections to raising the age at which a person is no longer allowed to remain in the juvenile justice system. A 15-year-old girl is among those accused of one theft in which a toddler was inside the vehicle.

One couple whose teen daughter was killed by a 20-year-old man are particularly outraged by the court ruling that means he can now potentially be paroled. The mother notes, “If you are 18 years old, and you can serve the military and you can fight and die for the country, then you damn well have the sense at 20 almost 21 to know murder is wrong.” This couple is among those urging legislation to strengthen criminal consequences for juveniles.

There has always been debate over when and if teens and those even younger should face the same criminal penalties as adults – particularly for violent and fatal offenses. It’s important to watch what the legislature does with this proposed law. However, in the meantime, it’s still important not to underestimate the effect that facing the juvenile justice system and having a juvenile record could have on your child. Having experienced legal guidance can help you protect their rights.

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