Bright Spots in the System
The Massachusetts juvenile justice system does have some excellent programs and models worthy of highlighting. A few examples include:
Some Massachusetts police departments have innovative diversion programs, such as the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative, and partnerships between police departments and Communities for Restorative Justice (C4RJ) to keep children from penetrating deeper into the system. Brookline Police’s use of the Massachusetts Arrest Screening Tool for Law Enforcement (MASTLE) risk screening tool at the point of arrest has shown promise in reducing both the number of children arrested and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in arrest.
Children in Massachusetts get specialized public defenders for kids thanks to the Youth Advocacy Division (YAD) of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Their integration of Positive Youth Development principles and education advocacy help focus courts and others on how best to achieve positive outcomes for young people as they transition to adulthood.
Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) is looked to as a national leader, with progressive policies regarding LGBTQ youth and solitary confinement, a strong focus on Positive Youth Development, and reliance on small group home settings and even foster care in addition to secure facilities. Additionally, over half of DYS-involved young people voluntarily access services after their release. DYS sits in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which further bolsters its rehabilitative approach.
Massachusetts Probation Service is working to improve race and ethnicity data collection, and target probation services for higher risk young people.
There is a wide network of committed service providers who contract with DYS and DCF to provide small group homes and to staff some secure (i.e. lock-up) facilities.
Several inter-agency efforts (including JDAI and the Leadership Forum) show an increasing level of trust and cooperation at the leadership level, which bodes well for current and future system-wide planning and improvement.
The new justice reform package, signed into law in April 2018, raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years old, bringing Massachusetts in line with international standards and developmental research. Raising the lower age means that children under 12 in Massachusetts will be met with social services, not prosecution and incarceration.
After years of advocacy from the Massachusetts Coalition for Juvenile Justice Reform, headed by CfJJ, the justice reform package signed by Governor Baker in April 2018 enacted several significant juvenile justice reforms. The law created a statewide Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board to help improve the state’s collection and use of data to drive system improvement, and to ensure that new policies and laws are evaluated to measure their success.