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September 27, 2013

17-year-olds Will Now be Treated as Juveniles in Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick has signed into law a bill that will cause 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles within the Massachusetts criminal justice system. Previously, 17-year-olds were treated as adults.

Despite the fact that 17-year-olds are not considered to be legal adults in many ways, they have been considered as such in the criminal court systems, including for arraignments and sentencing. This is because of the high number of juvenile offenses that occurred years ago, which led to the prosecution of teens in adult courts. However, since then feelings have changed throughout the country, including in the state of Massachusetts.

The law received support from both parties in the state legislature and will go into effect immediately. With its passage Massachusetts becomes the 39th state, along with the District of Columbia and the federal government, to make defendants under the age of 18 juveniles in the courts.

District Attorney David Sullivan believes it is a "recipe for disaster" to include 17-year-olds with adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system because they lack the maturity of an adult and do not have fully developed brains. He also believes that the new law will allow convicted 17-year-olds to receive the correct rehabilitation and care so that they are able to move on with their lives.

With the passage of the law, 17-year-olds convicted of some violent crimes can still be given adult sentences by the juvenile court judge. In addition, the new law makes is so that convicted 17-year-olds will not be sent to prison or jail, but rather to the custody of the state Department of Youth Services. They will also not receive an adult criminal record anymore.

Back in January Governor Patrick filed the bill to raise the age for juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. Many from the state legislature including Bruce Tarr, the Senate Minority Leader and state representative Brad Hill filed similar bills. Both attended the signing of the bill, as did Democratic sponsors.

Judge Michael F. Edgerton, who serves as chief justice of the Massachusetts juvenile courts, said that approximately 3,400 17-year-olds were charged in district courts with criminal acts in 2012. The total number of charges for these cases is about 7,300. Now, these charges will go to the juvenile courts. In addition, the probation officers who work with the juvenile courts become involved with the families and schools. They work to make sure that the convicted juveniles get the services they need.

August 13, 2010

Massachusetts Legislative Drug Sentencing Reform

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Beacon Hill, MA - August 1, 2010--In a positive step toward drug sentencing reform in Massachusetts, Governor Patrick and state legislative law makers signed into law part of the Senate-approved bill asking for equal access to parole, work eligibility and work release programs as non-drug offenders.

According to Massachusetts not-for-profit, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), the new law states that "offenders in county Houses of Correction to be eligible for parole after they serve one-half of their sentence (the same as other county prisoners who are eligible for parole), unless one or more 'aggravating factors' apply: they used violence or guns when committing the drug offense, they directed the drug activities of others, or they sold drugs to minors or used minors in drug transactions. The bill applies to those who are currently incarcerated, as well as to those sentenced in the future."

One of at least 15 states, Massachusetts law makers believe re-writing state mandatory drug sentencing laws will address public safety issues and reduce prison costs, as well as support prisoners' rights to parole.