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MA Juvenile Justice System "Gets It" - Kids are Different

PHOTO: Department of Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes (right) says 2014 saw the entire Juvenile Justice system in the Commonwealth get its head around the fact that kids are different and a developmental approach is needed. Credit: Daisy Gomez-Hugenberger, DYS
PHOTO: Department of Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes (right) says 2014 saw the entire Juvenile Justice system in the Commonwealth get its head around the fact that kids are different and a developmental approach is needed. Credit: Daisy Gomez-Hugenberger, DYS
December 15, 2014

BOSTON – The biggest sign of progress when it comes to juvenile justice in Massachusetts in 2014 is a major change in thinking, according to local experts.

Commissioner Peter J. Forbes with the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services says positive youth outcomes have been on the agenda for years, but the Raise the Age legislation, signed into law this fall, means older teenagers who have been committed are now housed in smaller rehabilitative units and those in detention have access to a full day of academics.

"Recognizing that kids are really different than adults, and here in Massachusetts, certainly, the entire juvenile justice system seems to have their head around the fact that we need a developmental approach," Forbes points out.

In September, Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation raising the age of Juvenile Court jurisdiction from 17 to 18.

Forbes says parents of those young offenders have expressed gratitude that their children now have a better chance at rehabilitation.

Meghan Guevara, technical assistance team leader of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says local courts used to hold children in custody for up to 30 days so they would have access to them for diagnostic testing, but now the courts tend to only hold children for testing if they are a flight risk.

"There's really been a mind shift around that,” she says. “So we're seeing a lot more of those evaluations don't in the community and those kids not being detained while those evaluations are being completed."

Looking ahead to 2015, Guevara says the focus will likely be racial disparity.

"We're still seeing the same levels of disparity between white youth and youth of color being detained in Massachusetts,” she says. “So that's something the state is going to be putting a lot of energy into over the next year. "

The Casey Foundation's initiative is now operating in 300 counties across the nation, with the goal of helping jurisdictions safely reduce juvenile detention populations.



Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA