The Northwestern District Attorney is working to reform juvenile court in Massachusetts by lobbying the State House to include 18-year-olds in its system.
In a letter sent Monday to leadership on Beacon Hill, David Sullivan and 18 others across the state urged their representatives to take this “unique opportunity to lead the nation by expanding its juvenile justice system above the absolutely arbitrary age of 18.”
As the House of Representatives discusses criminal justice reform at the State House, the goal for Sullivan and other advocates of “Raising the Age” is to include 18-year-olds in the juvenile court services, instead of stopping it at its current cutoff of 17 years old.
“The way I look at it is you have high school seniors that graduate when they’re 18. I think that’s a natural place to draw the line,” Sullivan said.
The letter signed by judges, attorneys and academics, and pushed by statewide advocacy group Citizens for Juvenile Justice, argues that by including 18-year-olds in the juvenile court system, they will have a better chance to find a job in the short-term and be less likely to re-enter the courts in the long-term.
“The case for Raising the Age is clear and fact-based,” the letter reads. “The case against it seems to rest entirely on a desire to mete out the harshest possible punishment for young people. This is not justice. It is not even rational. Our criminal justice system’s mission is to keep us safe. Punishment for punishment’s sake only breeds more crime.”
In Sept. 2013, the state raised the age to include 17-year-olds in the juvenile system, joining 39 other states at the time. Now, advocates want to push the age up one more year.
“When they raised it to 17 there were people who were saying that the sky is going to fall,” Sullivan said. “I see raising it just one more year falls within that same level of success from when we raised it to 17.”
Sullivan did note that if the rule was changed, an 18-year-old who commits what is perceived as a particularly serious criminal offense, like rape or murder, can be processed through the typical adult court system. This is how the court currently operates, too.
Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said that he prefers for cases to be handled case-by-case basis.
“I would rather respond to criminal behavior with discretion based on the facts of the crime and the circumstances of the offender rather than setting an arbitrary age,” Donelan said in a statement.
The sheriff agreed on the notion of helping to clean the records of young people.
“I also strongly support making the expunging of records easier so that people who do foolish things as youth don’t have to carry that baggage forever,” Donelan said.
This article originally appeared on the Greenfield Recorder.