Key Juvenile Justice System Trends that Support Raise the Age in Massachusetts

Citizens for Juvenile Justice has conducted a comprehensive analysis of data from various public sources to create the attached summary of data trends on crime rates for the emerging adult population and caseloads in the juvenile courts. The rates of crime among young people has declined over the last decade, including decreasing rates for 18-20 year olds.  

These data trends drive home a clear point: The Massachusetts juvenile justice system has the specialized skills and the capacity to handle the entry of 18- to 20-year-olds.

There are fewer 18-20 year olds coming to court

Arrests of 18- to 20-years dropped by 53% in the past five years. Only 48% of arrested 18-year-olds are arraigned in court; 52% of 19-year-olds; and 59% for 20-year-olds. Coupled with the significant declines in crime for this group, the number of 18-20 year-olds entering the system is significantly smaller that many realize.

The offenses committed by 18-20 year olds are similar to those committed by 16- and 17-year-olds

The primary charges that 18-20-year-olds are arrested for are misdemeanors like simple assault, disorderly conduct, shoplifting and alcohol-related offenses.

The Juvenile Justice system is well-equipped to handle serious cases

The juvenile system already effectively handles the cases of young people under the age of 21 who are indicted on serious offenses.  Young people charged with serious offenses can be indicted in Juvenile Court as a “Youthful Offender” where they are eligible for juvenile and/or adult sentences. Over 80% of young people over the age of 18 that are committed to the Department of Youth Services are adjudicated as a Youthful Offender and committed until age 21.  Young people who are charged with murder will continue to be automatically tried in Superior Court.

The Juvenile Justice system has the capacity for 18-20 year olds and can absorb 18-year-olds today

The total number of juvenile court cases has steadily declined over the last decade (2009 to 2018):

  • All juvenile court case filings decreased by 56%; and juvenile arraignments fell by 81%.

The juvenile justice system caseload, including the courts and DYS, continued to decline, even after Massachusetts ended the practice of trying 17-year-olds as adults in September 2013:

  • Since 17-year-olds were introduced into the juvenile justice system, there has been a 16% decrease from 19,712 cases in the juvenile courts to 16,627 in FY2018. This does not include reductions that have taken place since the implementation of the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018.

Since raising the age in 2013 to include 17-year-olds, Massachusetts has seen a reduction in juvenile crime, a decrease in number of cases arraigned and a decrease in new commitments to DYS.

The increased caseload that will occur from incorporating 18-year-olds would still be significantly lower than the number of cases that the court effectively handled when 17-year-olds were brought into the system:

  • 45% fewer than the number of arraignments in FY14.

The number of youth entering Department of Youth Services (DYS) facilities has also decreased steadily since 17-year-olds were brought into the juvenile justice system:

  • The number of youth in detention decreased 60% between 2014 and 2018.

  • The population of youth committed to DYS for secure care has also decreased, falling 36% between January 1, 2014 and January 1 of this year.

  • 60% of young people aging out of DYS commitment sign back on for voluntary services, including education, independent living and employment.  This population has the lowest recidivism rate at 13%.

The decreases in juvenile arrests, court arraignments and commitments to DYS have all created adequate space to accommodate this population of young people. Furthermore, projections show that a staggered entry of this population over a five-year span would allow the system to accommodate these youth without coming close to the level of cases handled by the system at the start of the decade.