The legislation “will go a long way in ensuring that juveniles get appropriate guidance and help when accused of committing minor crimes,” Hill said in a statement released this week. “There exists a large amount of research that illustrates the detrimental effects of sending minors through the adult criminal justice system ... a Centers for Disease Control panel has identified the policy as a cause of violent crime — not a solution.”
In Massachusetts, all 17-year-olds accused of crimes are prosecuted as adults (meaning no one is required to contact their parents when they are arrested) and can be sent to adult jails and prisons, often putting them at high risk of sexual assault and suicide. District attorneys do, however, have the option to charge first-time offenders between 17 and 21 as “youthful offenders,” keeping them out of the adult detention system. To its credit, the Essex County district attorney’s office makes liberal use of the first-time offender program.
It’s worth noting that 38 states and the U.S. Supreme Court consider 18 to be the proper age of adult criminal responsibility. It’s time for Massachusetts to give the issue a long look.