For Most Crimes, 17-Year-Olds to Face Juvenile System

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill Wednesday that would move most 17-year-olds out of the adult court and prison system.

The new law puts 17-year-olds into the juvenile court system and jails them in youth detention centers instead of adult jails.

Judge Gail Garinger, the state’s child advocate, says these teenagers will be better off in the juvenile system:

“The adult system just doesn’t have the same kinds of programs and services that are needed for young people to turn their lives around,” Garinger says.

For instance, Garinger says, offenders can be required to go to school or participate in substance abuse programs.

The law also requires law enforcement to notify parents when 17-year-olds are charged with crimes. And it means their criminal records would be sealed to future employers.

Judges can still impose adult sentences on 17-year-olds convicted of very serious crimes, and all murder cases will be tried in adult court.

Officials estimate the law will affect about 3,400 teens a year.