MA Could Be First State to Treat 18 Year Olds As Juveniles

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Massachusetts could be the first state to treat 18-year-olds as juveniles in the criminal justice system, the Christian Science Monitor reports. A criminal justice reform package that would raise the age of majority to 19, meaning that 18-year-olds would be treated as juveniles for most crimes, has passed the state Senate. The House version left the age of criminal majority at 18. A committee must reconcile the two bills before sending the product to the governor. If the age of criminal majority at 19 becomes law, it would mark the nation’s highest age of juvenile jurisdiction. The proposal follows widespread reform to raise the age to 18. Ten years ago, 13 states didn’t consider 17-year-olds juveniles when they were arrested. Today, five states are holdouts, four of which are considering legislation to change that.

Prompted by a growing body of research on adolescent mental development, some studies suggest including more teens in the juvenile system lowers recidivism rates. The push to raise the age signifies a larger shift in the way society defines adulthood. Legal experts see raising the age to 19 or higher as a natural next phase of the movement. Still, 18-year-olds are considered mature enough to vote and join the military. Shifting a large cohort of young adults from the adult to juvenile systems may not be possible for all states. In 1960, nearly half of young people ages 18-24 were married, says Vincent Schiraldi of the Columbia University School of Social Work. Today, as college enrollment rates rise and more Americans delay marriage, it’s rare to find a recent high school graduate married with a mortgage and a full-time job. For men in particular, marriage and steady, gainful employment – two steps that now typically come later in life – have proved to be important deterrents from crime.

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