Posts tagged Legislation
Massachusetts Passes a Landmark Criminal Justice Reform Bill

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.

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New Emerging Adult Justice Reform Bills in Illinois and Connecticut

Legislative sessions in 2018 across the country are already seeing an increased emphasis on emerging adult justice reform. On February 7, 2018, a new bill was filed in Illinois to gradually raise the age of juvenile justice in misdemeanor cases to include emerging adults up to age 21 by 2021. Meanwhile in Connecticut, the Governor filed two new bills to gradually include 18, 19 and 20-year-olds in the juvenile justice jurisdiction until 2021, and to expand the youthful offender status protections currently afforded to youth age 17 and under in adult courts to include 18, 19 and 20 year olds.


State Representative Laura Fine, a member of the Emerging Adult Justice Learning Community of the Columbia Justice Lab, has filed legislation HB 4581, to gradually include emerging adults charged with misdemeanor cases in the juvenile justice system (rather than adult criminal court). Meanwhile, both the Illinois House and Senate health committees approved proposals to raise the legal age of tobacco use to age 21. 

Synopsis of the bill as introduced:
- Provides that the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission in its annual submission of recommendation to the Governor and General Assembly shall include recommendations regarding the inclusion of emerging adults into a developmentally appropriate justice system, reducing recidivism, and preventing deeper criminal involvement.
- Provides in the Article concerning delinquent minors that on and after January 1, 2019, "delinquent minor" includes a minor who prior to his or her 19th birthday has committed a misdemeanor offense and has violated or attempted to violate, regardless of where the act occurred, a federal law or State law, or county or municipal ordinance.
- Provides that on and after January 1, 2021, "delinquent minor" includes a minor who prior to his or her 21st birthday has committed a misdemeanor offense and has violated or attempted to violate, regardless of where the act occurred, a federal law or State law or county or municipal ordinance. Provides that the changes made by the amendatory Act apply to violations or attempted violations committed on or after the effective of the amendatory Act.

Full text of the bill HB4581 can be found here.

Update: HB4581 passed the judiciary-criminal committee of the Illinois House of Representatives at its first hearing in March 2018. 


Governor Malloy’s Bill No. 5040, An Act Concerning Adjudication of Certain Young Adults in Juvenile Court, introduced in the February 2018 Legislative Session, expands the age of the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction up to age 21 by July 2021. In particular, this proposal:

(1) Adjusts the age of the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction through age 18 on July 1, 2019, through age 19 on July 1, 2020, and through age 20 on July 1, 2021, and differentiates this new population from “children” in statute by defining those aged 18 through 20 as “young adults”;

(2) Designates the Juvenile Justice Planning and Oversight Committee (JJPOC) as the stakeholder group responsible for gathering input, incorporating feedback and overseeing implementation of expanding the juvenile justice system’s jurisdiction;

(3) At the suggestion of prosecutors and law enforcement, includes a provision that makes it possible for 16 and 17 year olds charged with the most serious felonies to be transferred to the adult docket upon a showing of danger to the community. If such a transfer takes place, a judge would be allowed to depart from mandatory minimums for 16 and 17 year olds that would otherwise apply to adults.

The Governor referred to the report written by Justice Lab's Lael Chester and Vinny Schiraldi, Public Safety and Emerging Adults in Connecticut: Providing Effective and Developmentally Appropriate Responses for Youth Under Age 21, in his State-of-the-State address on February 7, 2018, when he announced his legislative proposal.

A second bill, HB5042 An Act Concerning Prosecution of Low-Risk Young Offenders in Adult Court, expands the youthful offender status protections currently afforded to individuals age 17 and under in adult court to individuals up to their 21st birthday. Some of these protections, among others, include a limited period of incarceration of no more than four years, having police and court records automatically erased (provided that the offender completes his or her sentence and does not reoffend) four years after sentencing as a youthful offender, and having the arrest records and other records remain confidential.

Highlighting these new emerging adult justice reform bills in his State-of-the-State address, the Governor Daniel Malloy stated:

“[S]ince 2010 Connecticut has twice raised the age for what constitutes a juvenile in our court system - not once, but twice. The result has been less crime, fewer victims, fewer prisoners, and reduced cost for taxpayers.[…] This year, it is time to take another measured, sensible step forward. We can ensure that young adults who have not fully matured are not branded for the rest of their lives for mistakes they made when they were young.”

Update: On March 22, the Joint Committee on Judiciary in Connecticut held a public hearing on HB5040 and HB5042. Read a new op-ed by Justice Lab’s Vincent Schiraldi and Lael Chester on why including emerging adults in CT’s juvenile justice system makes sense.

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