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State Rep. Defends Youth Justice Reform at City Council

By Tom Marino | April 3, 2024
Last Updated: April 3, 2024

WORCESTER – An item before the Worcester City Council on legislation proposed in the Massachusetts Legislature for juvenile criminal justice reform brought comments from state Rep. Jim O’Day, one of the sponsors of the bill in the state House of Representatives.

Three Worcester City Councilors have questions about tandem bills in both houses of the Massachusetts Legislature that would raise “age of criminal majority” from 18 to 21. The house version of the bill, H.1710, is sponsored by O’Day (14th Worcester) and Manny Cruz (7th Essex). The senate version, S.942, is sponsored by Sen. Brendan Crighton (3rd Essex).

City Councilors At-Large Moe Bergman and Kate Toomey, and District Two Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson, asked jointly for city council to request that Worcester City Solicitor Michael Traynor provide a legal opinion on how the two bills in the legislature addresses firearm related offenses.

WATCH: All comments from Tuesday’s Worcester City Council meeting on the juvenile criminal justice reform bill, below

Bergman told This Week in Worcester on Tuesday, prior to the city council meeting, that he has concerns the bill could treat illegal possession of a gun for a 20-year-old as a juvenile crime, then treat the same crime as a first offense for an adult just a year or two later. Given the current rate of gun related crime and the proliferation of illegal firearms among young people, Bergman said he has concerns about lessening penalties for gun-related crime. He also added he doesn’t oppose the bill in whole.

During public comments, O’Day said that, “the real focus of this particular piece of legislation is to really look at brain development in youth and emerging adults at 18, 19 and 20.” He added, “The adult the adult brain does not fully develop until till the age.”

Councilor At-Large Khrystian King, who is a full-time social worker with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) (Worcester City Councilors are part-time), said that “teens who are in Massachusetts adult correctional facilities have a 55 percent re-conviction rate.” He added that adult teens with commitments to the Department of Youth Services (DYS), which has required educational and other programs, have a re-conviction rate of 20 percent.

The request for a legal opinion from Traynor was approved by a vote of 6-5, with Bergman, Toomey, Mero-Carlson, Councilor At-Large Donna Colorio, District Three Councilor George Russell, and Mayor Joe Petty voting in support of the request. Petty said he supports the state legislation, but believed councilors should be able to get a legal opinion on the matter. Toomey and Mero-Carlson spoke in favor of getting the legal opinion, but did not indicate a position on the bill. Russel also said he supported a getting the legal opinion, but didn’t yet know enough about the bill to take a position.

Supporters of the bill say Massachusetts raised the age of criminal majority to 18 in 2013, which kept 17-year-old offenders out of the adult system, operated by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC). In the juvenile system, operated by the Department of Youth Services (DYS), young people have better access to mental health services and educational programs that are critical to rehabilitation, as well as more strict supervision critical to successful re-entry to society.

The latest report by the DOC found a recidivism rate of 30 percent, with the highest recidivism with those ages 18 to 24. The DYS found a recidivism rate of 25 percent.

Supporters of the bill also point to the falling number of juvenile arrests since 2013. Data from the state shows that juvenile arrests fell from 11,934 in 2009 to 6,206 in 2013, when the system began including 18-year-olds in the juvenile system. The number of arrests continued to fall to 1,412 in 2020, the last year data is available.

In Worcester, juvenile arrests have also fallen. In 2009 there were 564 juvenile arrests, increasing to 628 in 2010 and 607 in 2011. In 2012, juvenile arrests fell to 388, then 318 in 2013. By 2020, juvenile arrests fell to 73.

See the comments on the bill from the meeting, below.

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