Under Massachusetts law, 17-year-olds are treated as adults in the criminal justice system. A sensible effort is underway in the Legislature to raise that age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18. Criminal justice research, the demands of federal law, and common sense all argue for such a change. And it can be accomplished without exposing the public unduly to teens who commit murder or other violent offenses.
Confinement in adult jails or prisons puts 17-year-old prisoners at greater risk of victimization by older inmates and makes young offenders more likely to reoffend. Currently, 38 states and the federal government place offenders younger than 18 under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts. The US Supreme Court has reinforced that approach by accepting the concept of diminished criminal capacity for offenders under the age of 18 based, in part, on characteristics of the adolescent brain.