An Act to Reform the Juvenile Justice System (H52)

Summary

Reforms various aspects of the juvenile justice system in conformity with the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision of Miller v. Alabama (prohibiting mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders). Governor Patrick’s legislation would, among other things, (1) raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to age 18; (2) return trial of juveniles accused of murder to the juvenile courts; (3) require the consideration of specific mitigating factors before a juvenile can receive life without parole; (4) create mandatory parole eligibility for youthful offenders convicted of 2nd degree murder after 15 years; and (5) authorize juveniles to accept post-discharge services from DYS.

 

Lead Sponsor

The Governor

Background

In Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court found that mandatory life sentences without parole for youthful offenders violated the Constitution.  Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority of the court “that mandatory life without parole for those under age of 18 at the time of their crime violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments…Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” Justice Kagan added. “It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him — and from which he cannot usually extricate himself — no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”

According to Citizens for Juvenile Justice, adult incarceration of juveniles can have serious negative affects:

Increased community violence: In an effort to increase public safely, the Task Force for Community Preventive Services recommended changing laws to discourage transfer of youth to adult courts and ban the placement of children under 18 in adult jails. Young offenders handled in the adult criminal justice system reoffend 34 percent more frequently than similarly situated peers who remain in the juvenile system.

Sexual Assault: Inmates under 18 make up only one percent of the population, but are victims in 21 percent of prison rapes. Because of their incredible vulnerability to sexual assault in adult facilities, the Department of Justice recently updated the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) to prohibit incarceration of youth under 18 in adult inmate housing facilities.

Suicide: The suicide rate for youth under 18 in adult jails is eight times that of kids in juvenile facilities, and thirty-six times higher than adults.

Isolation: Younger prisoners are often placed in isolation for their protection, but this practice can lead to depression, anxiety and psychosis. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s policy is that no one under 18 should be held in isolation without a mental health evaluation. PREA prohibits using isolation of youth under 18 as a way to comply with its provisions. Environment: The teenage brain is still developing, making young people highly susceptible to their environment – for better or worse.

Asthma: Asthma is a common condition among adolescents and can be aggravated by the stress of confinement and environmental triggers such as secondhand smoke, molds and cockroaches.

Nutrition: Adolescents are still developing and have heightened nutritional needs that may not be met by prison fare that is short on fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.

Appropriate care: Most 17-year-olds in the community are under the care of a pediatrician.  Those with mental health needs are served by clinicians specializing in children and adolescents.  In an adult facility, these children are often seen by clinicians who have no training in the distinct needs of adolescents.

Current Status

Version filed by Representative Kay Khan - HB 1432 - An Act to expand juvenile jurisdiction, increase public safety and protect children from harm was signed by the Governor on September 18, 2013.

 

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