Proposal would raise age limit for juvenile court to 21

Massachusetts is considering raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile court to 21, the highest in the nation.

Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, one year at a time for the next three years, from age 18 to age 21. This means that those accused of a crime up until age 21 would be processed through the juvenile court system instead of the adult system, where harsher penalties may apply. Supporters of the proposal point to both neurological studies of adolescent brain development and reduced recidivism rates for individuals tried within the juvenile system as justification for raising the age. If the proposal becomes law, Massachusetts would be the first state in the country to treat offenders up to 21 years of age as juveniles.

Brains not fully developed

Supporters of raising the age for juvenile court jurisdiction point to neurological studies which show that young adult brains are not fully developed until they reach their early to mid-twenties, and that the current age cutoff for the juvenile system does not conform to this scientific evidence. Currently, a 17-year-old offender is usually tried in juvenile court while an 18-year-old offender accused of committing the same crime is tried in adult court despite the fact that there is very little difference in the brain development between the two. Both the 17 year old and the 18 year old exhibit the same impulsive and volatile behavior that can land them in legal trouble. It should be noted, however, that the proposed bill would not change the current laws regarding young offenders accused of more serious crimes, such as murder. These offenders would likely (depending on the circumstances) still be charged as adults.

Reducing recidivism rates

Supporters also claim that raising the age would help reduce recidivism rates, because the juvenile system is based upon the concept of rehabilitation not punishment. The juvenile system is familiar with getting kids the services they need, including educational, mental health and substance abuse if necessary. In addition, records of juvenile offenses are sealed, meaning that future landlords or employers doing a background check will not be able to see offenses that a person committed as a youth. Youthful offenses, which have been addressed and "paid for" won't haunt that person for the rest of their lives. A criminal record can make it extremely difficult to find a job or a place to live, thus making it very difficult to reenter society. Such hurdles often create a circular road back into a life of crime.

Criminal defense help

Regardless of age, being charged with a criminal offense is not something to take lightly. A conviction could lead to prison time and a criminal record that could severely impact one's ability to make a living. Anybody who is facing a criminal charge needs to talk to a defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients devise a strategy that will uphold their rights and keep the damage caused by such charges to a minimum.