Emerging Adult Justice Campaign

CfJJ is advocating to gradually raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 18-20 year olds. This reform will decrease crime, hold young people accountable, and help the Massachusetts economy.

CfJJ, in collaboration with Roca, UTEC, I Have a Future, and other allies across the Commonwealth, recently launched a campaign to advocate for more developmentally appropriate responses to "emerging adults" - young people aged 18 to 25 (LEARN MORE) - in the justice system.  Among other reforms, legislation introduced in Massachusetts this session would hold justice-involved young people accountable in developmentally appropriate systems by gradually shifting the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18, 19, and 20 year olds, and by requiring more developmentally appropriate approaches to young people aged 21 to 25 who are in the adult criminal justice system.


What we are doing now doesn’t work:  Massachusetts spends enormous amounts of money locking up young people in the adult system, with terrible outcomes for young people and our communities. Shifting emerging adults into the juvenile system would lower recidivism and prevent deeper criminal justice system involvement.

The juvenile system can hold younger justice-involved emerging adults accountable while providing them with developmentally appropriate services tailored for their age group: school, rehabilitative programming, and vocational training. This approach will improve outcomes for young people and make communities safer by getting youth on the right track. Serious crimes would still be eligible for adult sentences.

The Massachusetts’ economy will benefit from this reform. An educated workforce is one of the state’s best assets. Because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts young people of color at higher rates, the decrease in opportunity that results from system contact hits Black and Latino communities especially hard. These reforms give young people a better chance to grow up to contribute to their communities, helping to prevent intergenerational poverty.

Legislation Related to Emerging Adult Justice (2019-2020 Session):

An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young Adults (Reps. O’Day & Khan H.3420/ Sen. Boncore S.825) 

This bill would restructure the juvenile justice system to include 18 to 20-year-olds to prevent long-term criminal justice system involvement by ensuring they are held accountable and engaged in treatment, education, and vocational training that are more effective for this age group. Young people charged with serious offenses would still be eligible for adult sentencing in murder and “Youthful Offender” cases as is currently the law for children 14 years and older.  This bill would:

·      Gradually raise the upper age in delinquency and youthful offender cases to include 18- to 20-year-olds over several years. Young adults with serious offenses would still be eligible for adult sentencing in murder and “Youthful Offender” cases as is currently the law.

·      Expand the upper age of commitment to DYS for emerging adults (18-20) to ensure that there is an adequate opportunity to rehabilitate older youth entering the system, including extended commitment with DYS in “Youthful Offender” cases up to age 23.

An Act to Reduce Recidivism among Emerging Adults (Reps. Khan & O’Day H.1486/ Sen. Friedman S.940) 

This bill would infuse developmentally-appropriate, evidence-informed policies modeled after Massachusetts’ juvenile justice system into the adult criminal justice system to ensure positive outcomes for system-involved young adults (under the age of 25 or 26) and increase public safety: (1) individualized case planning; (2) family engagement; (3) access to education, including post-secondary education; (4) restrict the use of solitary and restraints; (5) promote community-based pre-release; (6) ensure access to physical, mental and dental health services; (7) prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ individuals; and (8) prohibit incarceration solely due to lack of available placement with another state agency.


Media coverage

Support for Massachusetts' campaign to raise the age to 21 has been highlighted in: