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Could "Raise The Age" bill reduce crime in Massachusetts?

Could a bill to prosecute 18, 19, 20-year-olds as juveniles reduce crime in Massachusetts?
Could a bill to prosecute 18, 19, 20-year-olds as juveniles reduce crime in Massachusetts? 04:10

BOSTON - Crimes committed by teens and young people normally make for eye-popping headlines. In the past week, hundreds of young adults have been arrested at campus protests. Over the weekend, a 16-year-old was accused of murdering a 14-year-old in Worcester. Last week, a 15-year-old was arrested for driving a stolen car during a high-speed chase with Massachusetts State Police troopers. 

This all comes as lawmakers on Beacon Hill consider a bill that proposes prosecuting 18, 19, and 20-year-olds as juveniles.

What is the "Raise the Age" bill?

Commonly called "Raise the Age," it would keep offenders in the juvenile court system until their 21st birthday. If passed into law, it would be gradually implemented over five years. The bill would still allow for the automatic prosecution offenders as adults for first and second-degree murder charges. It also allows for prosecutors to seek adult sentences for offenders who commit serious felonies that involve bodily harm or the use of a firearm.

The bill supports a model already in place at a non-profit called UTEC. The Lowell organization helps young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who have been arrested or have intersected with the criminal justice system. UTEC uses rehabilitation and education to help young people. It has a woodworking shop, a kitchen, and classrooms. 

"No matter what's happened on the street, when you walk in the doors, you truly have a second, third, fourth chance. However, many you need," said UTEC's CEO Gregg Croteau. 

Proponents say brains not fully developed until 25

Proponents of "Raise the Age" say young people do not belong in adult court rooms because their brains do not fully develop until age 25. 

"Our cognitive abilities develop at a different rate then our social, emotional decision-making capabilities," said Selen Siringil Perker, Associate Director for the Columbia Justice Lab's Emerging Adult Justice Project. 

Perker says the data supports the policy measure too. Data in Massachusetts shows that arrests of youth under age 21 dropped sharply in the past decade, with minor offense arrests down over 70%. 

One study has shown slight increases in re-arraignments for 17-year-old youths who had no prior involvement in the system, but Perker says that "may indicate juvenile system's 'net-widening' effect, by sweeping in too many low-level cases." 

Vermont is the only state which is already slowly raising the age to the 21st birthday and will begin incorporating 19-year-olds in July. Researchers from Columbia found new delinquency cases declined there after 18-year-old were added to the juvenile system.

District attorney raises concerns

Not everyone is on board with the idea of Raise the Age. Earlier this year, Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz raised some concerns. "I can join the army if I'm 18, I can vote it I'm 18," Cruz said. 

Proponents like Perker argue that society has different ages for different milestones. Alcohol, for example, can still only be purchased at age 21. 

Currently, no data exists related to 19 and 20-year-olds in the juvenile system since no state has implemented the policy in that age range yet. Still, Croteau says the UTEC experience can fill in the data gap. The recidivism rate, or the rate at which offenders are re-arrested, is 25% amongst UTEC participants. That is roughly half the recidivism rate of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 in Massachusetts.

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