Opposing camps in Massachusetts and California are finding plenty to fight about as lawmakers mull a new frontier in raising the age for their juvenile justice systems. State lawmakers will consider whether to try most 18- and 19-year-olds in juvenile courts and stop incarcerating them with adults. Massachusetts and California would join Vermont, which in 2018 became the first state to make the same move. In Massachusetts, a bill proposes to fold 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds into the juvenile justice system. A task force on “emerging adults” declined to recommend expanding the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. In Massachusetts, legislators will consider a controversial bill that proposes to expand the jurisdiction of juvenile court through age 20. In February, a Task Force on Emerging Adults made no recommendation.
“The community came out and said, ‘You should do something,’ but the task force couldn’t agree what that ‘something’ should be,” said panel member Sana Fadel of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, an advocacy group that’s leading the push to raise the age in Massachusetts. The incomplete development of frontal brain lobes, the report said, makes young adults “more likely to be more impulsive, less future-oriented, more unstable in emotionally charged settings, and more susceptible to peer and other outside influences.” The task force punted to the legislature the big, structural question, listing competing choices as menu items — such as raising the age for juvenile court versus creating a completely separate court system for 18- to 25-year-olds.