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Judge among backers of plan to raise age of juvenile jurisdiction

Proposals to give the Juvenile Court jurisdiction over 18-year-olds got a boost from those in the criminal justice system Tuesday, as lawmakers, a judge, and a sheriff testified before the Committee on Children and Families in support of legislation to treat 17-year-olds as youthful offenders.

Judge Michael Edgerton, ­Juvenile Court chief justice, said state law wrongly assumes that 17-year-olds have the ­maturity of adults.

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Testifying in support of bills to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, Edgerton said the ­capacity for juvenile defendants to be rehabilitated ­exceeds that of adults.

The judge said that while Massachusetts prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults, it does not let them vote, drink, or adopt children.

“The brain of a 17-year-old is still in its developmental stage,” Edgerton said.

Governor Deval Patrick also supports raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, including such a step in a more comprehensive juvenile justice reform package filed earlier this year that also proposed eliminating mandatory life sentences without parole for youthful offenders convicted of first-degree murder.

The bills filed by Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Kay Khan do not address sentencing reforms and would not preclude youthful offenders from being tried as adults for murder or other violent offenses.

According to supporters, 38 states and the District of ­Columbia have raised the age of jurisdiction for the juvenile courts to 18.

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian said youthful ­offenders incarcerated with adults run a greater risk of physical and sexual abuse, suicide, and recidivism.

The sheriff also said that research proves that prosecuting youths as adults is not a deterrent to crime.

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