There is a growing awareness, in the United States and Europe, that emerging adults – those ages 18–25 – are a developmentally distinct group worth special treatment at the hands of the justice system. Four US states have proposed raising the age of their juvenile courts’ jurisdiction beyond age 18 within the last year, while four out of five European countries have special laws affecting emerging adults. Three European nations – Croatia, Germany, and the Netherlands – allow youth over age 18 to be sanctioned in the same manner as younger youth in the juvenile justice system, including the possibility of being housed in juvenile facilities. In March 2018, the Columbia University Justice Lab sponsored an educational delegation of 20 elected and appointed officials, legal system stakeholders, service providers, and advocates to Germany to learn more about the German approach to emerging adults. In advance of that delegation, the authors in this article examined the law and practice regarding court-involved emerging adults in Croatia, Germany, and the Netherlands to glean potential lessons for US policy-makers considering a developmentally distinct approach to emerging adults in their justice systems.Read More
On Friday, April 13th, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law. The landmark bill aims to develop a more equitable system that supports the state's youngest and most vulnerable residents, reduces recidivism, increases judicial discretion, and enhances public safety. Highlights of the bill include: (1) the elimination of mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses, (2) a number of measures that would reduce the use of solitary confinement, (3) the requirement of district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs and the creation of a pre-trial services unit to remind pre-trial detainees of upcoming court dates using modern messaging approaches, (4) protection of the parent-child relationship by disqualifying parents and children from being called to testify against each other in court, and (5) raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 (the international standard). The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate (38 - 0) and nearly unanimously in the House (137 - 5).
The bill contained some important provisions specifically targeted at emerging adult justice reform including the ability to expunge a record for offenses committed up to age 21 and the creation of a task force to examine the treatment and impact of individuals ages 18 to 24 in the court system and correctional system of the commonwealth.
A useful and comprehensive bill summary can be found on State Senator Will Brownsberger's website.
As noted in a powerful editorial in the Boston Globe, Massachusetts has an opportunity to continue this important work on emerging adult justice reform. The creation of the task force is an important step in considering effective systemic reforms.Read More