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Minor Transgressions, Major Consequences: A Picture of 17-Year-Olds in the Massachusetts Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
44 pages
This report outlines the Citizens for Juvenile Justice's (CfJJ's) research, initial findings, and recommendations about how best to manage 17-year-olds who have been arrested or accused of a crime, with attention to Massachusetts law and policy.
The first chapter reviews what is known about 17-year-olds in Massachusetts, particularly those arrested for or charged with a crime. The vast majority of 17-year-olds currently sent to the State's adult criminal justice system are charged with minor, nonviolent offenses, and they generally have a similar or less serious offense patterns than younger teens who are processed by the juvenile justice system. They are processed as adults only because of their age, since Massachusetts law requires that all 17-year-olds charged with a crime be treated as adults. The second chapter considers current scientific and sociological research on adolescent development, including what is known about what does and doesn't work in preventing or reducing juvenile offending. The chapter concludes that research has repeatedly found that processing teens in the adult criminal justice system increases their risk for recidivism and the cost to taxpayers. The third chapter documents what currently happens to juvenile and their families in a comparison of the Massachusetts juvenile and adult justice systems. It notes that while teens in the juvenile justice system are required to attend school, teens in the adult system are unlikely to receive classroom instruction or any special education services, even though they are legally entitled to such services. The fourth chapter examines the practical and financial impact that would result from processing 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult system. The fifth chapter examines the experiences of Connecticut and Illinois, which recently changed their policies to include 17-year-olds in their juvenile justice systems. Strategies are recommended for reforming Massachusetts' management of 17-year-old offenders. 21 notes