Lawmakers pushing for juvenile justice reform

Nearly 30 percent of Massachusetts youth discharged from prison are re-convicted

BOSTON (WWLP)—Nearly 30 percent of Massachusetts youth discharged from prison are re-convicted. State lawmakers are pushing legislation that could help these youth turn their lives around and keep them out of the system.

More than 50 percent of Springfield youth are at danger of engaging in risky behavior. If caught, many of them end up with a record that could follow them for the rest of their lives.

“They shouldn’t have to live their whole lives by one mistake made at 17 or 18,” said State Senator Karen Spilka, (D) Ashland.

Lawmakers filed a bill that would permanently erase or seal juvenile records. Records could prevent young people, like 21-year-old Jefferson Alvarez, from getting housing, education and jobs. Alvarez, a member of youth diversion organization UTEC, wants to be a paramedic.

“I’m doing a real big change in myself,” Alvarez told 22News. “I don’t want nobody to feel like, ‘oh, just because he has a criminal record, I’m a bad guy.’ It’s just mistakes that I’ve been through in following people and I never want to follow nobody again. I’m just taking my own lead now.”

Lawmakers are also pushing legislation to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 18 to 21, citing studies that brain development is incomplete until mid-20s. Supporters said the juvenile justice system would be able to better handle young adults and keep them from getting back into the prison system.

Critics are concerned that putting young adults in the juvenile system could be harmful for teens in prison.

“That’s why the bill phases in raising the age,” Spilka said. “We would work with DYS; help give them the services and the programming that is necessary for older emerging adults.”

The state’s Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing the bills and has yet to approve or kill the proposals.