There are many ways that Massachusetts can make our juvenile justice system more fair and effective. Below are just a few suggestions. You can also check out the publications and issues pages on the rest of Citizens for Juvenile Justice’s website to learn more, or learn how to take action to make the system better through one of our campaigns.
Recommendation #1: Address systemic racism, implicit, and explicit bias in our system through strategies such as training, policy assessment, links to poverty reduction, data collection and transparency, and the incorporation of the voices and guidance of those most impacted by the system.
Recommendation #2: Increase opportunities for ‘off-ramps’ for kids such as diversion programs run by police and District Attorneys and pre-arraignment diversion by judges. There is a huge opportunity not only to avoid the negative long-term effects system involvement, but also connect young people to the services they need. With all diversion program design, policy-makers should be careful of “net-widening,” or providing services to children who do not need any. State-level policy-makers should help foment an ecosystem wherein diversion programs are available to all children in the Commonwealth, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, geography, or socioeconomic status.
Recommendation #3: Require better data collection, public reporting, and use for policy improvement, especially regarding race and ethnicity data. There are several key decision points in our system where this data is not publicly available, such as at the Court and District Attorney level. There are examples of excellent state-operated data collection, analysis, and visualization efforts across the country to provide information for policymakers and the public on the scope and effectiveness of juvenile justice systems. The newly formed Juvenile Justice Policy and Data board has been tasked with assessing data systems' capacities and making recommendations for improvement.
Recommendation #4: Raise the upper age to include 18-20 year olds within the juvenile justice system.
Recommendation #5: Focus on positive outcomes for children, not just recidivism. Examples of such measures include educational outcomes, health outcomes, and other long-term trajectory indicators.