BOSTON - Lawmakers heard testimony in favor of a bill that proposes prosecuting 18, 19, and 20-year-old offenders as juveniles instead of adults, Tuesday.
Advocates told lawmakers in the Joint Judiciary Committee that offenders in this age group do not have fully formed brains and cannot completely understand the implications of their actions.
"The adult brain, especially the pre-frontal cortex in particular is not fully developed until age 25 and why this is important is because it has implications for a young person's impulse control and self-regulation," said Attorney General Andrea Campbell who testified in favor of the bill.
Recidivism, or the rate at which criminal offenders are re-arrested and sent back to prison is at its highest in this age group, Campbell said, at 76% over three years. She argues that is more reason why young adult offenders should be handled by the juvenile criminal justice system.
Several states have considered similar proposals, but Vermont is the only state to pass a law raising the age for juvenile offenders.
The data on the impact of such policies remains unclear.
According to advocacy website Raisetheage.org, juvenile crime fell by 62% after Massachusetts first raised its age limit for juvenile offenders from 17 to 18 in 2013.
However, a 2022 study in the Journal of Criminology and Public Policy found that when Massachusetts raised that age, the move "increased recidivism for affected 17-year-olds."
Some opponents argue that adult penalties such as jail and prison time deter youth from crimes. Sana Fadal, Deputy Director of Advocacy Group Citizens for Juvenile Justice disagrees.
"The sociological research has told us that deterrence is not going to work with young people," Fadal said.
Newton Police Chief John Carmichael, legislative liaison for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, says the criminal justice system already works to keep youthful offenders out of jail.
"The criminal justice system in it of itself is not so punitive to begin with. Many cases if there is an arrest made or there are charges taken out, a lot of times those cases are nolle prossed or they're dismissed, or there's pre-trial probation. And the probation system here in Massachusetts, I think, it does work pretty well," Carmichael said.
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