Citizens for Juvenile Justice
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17-year-olds tried as adults,
extremely similar to younger offenders

For immediate release: November 29, 2012
Contact: Naoka Carey, (617) 338-1050

Most 17-year-olds arrested in Massachusetts are charged with the same low-level offenses common among younger teens, yet are automatically charged as adults and will serve sentences in adult facilities.

Data•Points, a report released today by Citizens for Juvenile Justice, compiled a statistical picture of the juvenile justice system and of 17-year-olds, who – though they would be handled as juveniles in most states – are automatically processed in the Commonwealth’s adult criminal justice system.

FBI arrest data for Massachusetts confirms that 17-year-olds are arrested for the same, predominantly low-level, non-violent offenses as younger teens.  In 2009 and 2010, law enforcement officials reported arresting 5,888 and 5,279 17-year-olds, respectively, compared with 11,051 and 9,996 juveniles under 17. Like younger teens, the majority of 17-year-olds are arrested for relatively minor offenses, including larceny/theft, simple assaults, liquor law violations and disorderly conduct.  In fact, compared with their younger peers, 17-year-olds are slightly less likely to be arrested for “violent” offenses (9.3 percent versus 11.7 percent of under 17 arrests in 2009, 9.5 percent versus 11 percent of under 17 arrests in 2010).

Crime in this age group is falling. In 2011, the number of 17-year-olds formally charged in adult court was 3,338.  This is a 13 percent decline from 2010 and a 22 percent decline from 2009.

“Our policy of automatically prosecuting 17-year-olds is unusual,” according to report author Naoka Carey, senior policy associate at Citizens for Juvenile Justice. “Most states and the federal government set 18 as the age of adulthood. The juvenile system has a lower recidivism rate and lower risk of sexual assault and suicide than 17-year-olds face in adult jails and prisons.”

Massachusetts law does not require that parents be notified of a 17-year-old’s arrest, be present during questioning, or advise their child during court procedures such as plea bargaining.

For a complete copy of the report, please visit cfjj.org/reports.php.