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Arrest and Detention

Each year, thousands of Massachusetts children and teens become involved in the juvenile justice system. According to FBI data, 7,281 youth under 18 were arrested in Massachusetts in 2018. As the chart below demonstrates, only a small fraction of children who are formally arrested end up “committed” to the Department of Youth Services (i.e. sentenced to incarceration in a locked facility; for definitions of the terms used here and in the rest of this section, please see our Glossary, here <INSERT LINK>)). Even for those children who are arrested, the system has numerous formal and informal “off-ramps” - sometimes called “Diversion” — where children can either enter a community program or simply resume their lives out of the system.  

The chart below, based on 2015 data, shows how youth travel through the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts starting at the point of arrest. As shown below, after an arrest a case may be diverted by a district attorney or clerk, or arraigned, at which point a judge decides if the child will be detained (held in jail) or released to their parent/guardian pending further court dates. Research shows that children who are detained are less likely to graduate high school and more likely to be incarcerated as an adult. In Massachusetts, a much larger percentage of youth are “detained” than are ever found to have committed an offense, indicating that we subject many youth to the harms of incarceration who are legally presumed to be innocent.

After an “adjudication” (similar to a conviction in adult court), a judge determines whether a child is committed to DYS until their 18th birthday, given probation supervision, or released because the case is dismissed or CWOFed (Continued without a Finding) (see glossary). Only a small fraction (generally between 3 and 5 percent) of the youth who are arraigned are ever committed to DYS.

A note on the data source: Data estimates are pulled and calculated from Massachusetts JDAI RRI Dashboard, which draws from EOPSS, DYS, and Juvenile Court data to look at racial and ethnic disparities. Arrest data does not include roughly 1500 children whose race and ethnicity was unknown, including all children from Lawrence which lacks arrest data. Due to lack of publicly available data, calculations that end in a ‘0*’ are educated guesses made by the authors. Note that the above is not comprehensive as there are many additional steps in the system. For a more complete map of the system, see JDAI's Case Processing map.