, Gloucester, MA


January 21, 2013

My View: Treating kids as kids in justice system

Parents of teenagers spend a lot of time working with their kids on making good decisions, because they know that a single bad decision can be life-altering.

Our state is one of a handful that automatically tries and sentences 17-year-olds as adults, no matter how minor the charges against them.

But the goal with young people in trouble should be to get them on course toward productive citizenship, not to lead them toward a life of crime. Massachusetts law actually encourages more criminal behavior. Simply put, trying a 17-year-old as an adult for a minor crime is unproductive.

In order to strive for an irrefutable solution, I have filed a bill that will place 17-year-olds in juvenile jurisdiction in minor cases.

The body of research showing the detrimental effects of sending kids to the adult criminal system is so large and conclusive that a Centers for Disease Control panel identified the policy as a cause of violent crime. Youth placed in the adult system are 34 percent more likely to be re-arrested for a violent offense than those handled by the juvenile system, even when controlling for other factors, an extensive study by Northeastern University researchers found. This 34 percent increase in re-offending is a cost taxpayers and future victims should not have to pay.

The juvenile system is designed to get at the root causes of delinquency. Risks such as gang influence, family problems and school issues often contribute to delinquent behavior. These youth-specific issues are recognized more quickly and addressed more skillfully in the juvenile justice system.

To be successful, kids need things the adult system simply is not designed to deliver, including age-appropriate education, such as high school or vocational training and the special education services that so many young inmates need. The Department of Youth Services is focused on maintaining family and community ties, which are correlated with positive outcomes for kids leaving the justice system.

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