Connecticut’s governor has launched a new attempt at a groundbreaking juvenile justice reform effort this year, pushing to raise the age at which most young offenders go before an adult court to 21, reported the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.
Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed the same plan in 2016, only to see it stall in the state legislature. But if he succeeds this year, Connecticut would be the first to raise the age beyond 18 for all but the most serious offenses, such as murder, assault with a firearm and rape.
There’s no doubt this is a cutting-edge proposal, said Lael Chester, the co-author of a report by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government that’s recommending a step-by-step program for making that change.
A state legislative committee that oversees juvenile justice urged Connecticut officials Thursday to move deliberately if the plan gets adopted, phasing in the changes over a 4½ -year period — but it didn’t sign off on any particular bill.
In recent years, several states have raised the age at which teenagers are routinely prosecuted as adults to 18. Connecticut was one of them, raising its age from 16 to 18. But no state has gone beyond 18, the age at which Americans are generally considered legal adults with the right to vote, join the armed forces, carry a credit card.
In their report, Chester and co-author Vincent Schiraldi characterize people between 18 and 21 as emerging adults.Recent advances in the understanding of adolescent brain development and psychology suggest young adults should get the juvenile justice system’s opportunities for rehabilitation and second chances.
Currently, those emerging adults have the highest recidivism rates of any group in the criminal justice system, Chester said. The report found that young adults prosecuted in adult courts were between 34 and 77 percent more likely to be arrested again, and more likely to be arrested for a more violent crime than teens who stayed in the juvenile system.
“We have historically just lumped together 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in the adult system without really thinking about it,” she said. “And yet we now know from research that that emerging adult population is a distinct developmental stage. They’re somewhere between childhood and fully mature, independent adulthood.”
She added: “We know from developmental psychology and neurobiology that the brain is still developing. That’s what moved a lot of states and moved the U.S. Supreme Court to find that they have a greater protection from the Constitution.”
At least three other states — Massachusetts, Vermont and Illinois — are considering similar proposals, but none have acted yet, Chester said.
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