Juvenile Justice

Juvenile Justice includes the Department of Youth Services (DYS) and the programs and services it administers, as well as the juvenile court. Juvenile justice is the area of criminal law applied to children and youth. In Massachusetts, youth ages 7 – 16 can be charged in juvenile court while in 39 other states the upper age limit has been extended to age 17. Also in Massachusetts, youth who commit serious crimes may be prosecuted as an adult even if they are age 16 or under.

DYS is the primary juvenile justice agency providing programs and detention services for children and youth detained by law enforcement. Two primary goals for DYS include 1) public protection and 2) crime prevention by promoting positive change in the lives of youth committed to custody.

DYS collaborates with youth, families, communities, government and other provider agencies to provide treatment and skill development services to youth in DYS custody. DYS operates over 80 programs including 56 facilities ranging from staff secure group homes to highly secure locked units, and 28 programs to serve youth living in the community – with a parent, guardian, foster home, or at an independent living program.

One issue facing the juvenile justice system in Massachusetts and the entire U.S. is the racial makeup of committed youth. In Massachusetts youth of color make up 25 percent of the youth population, 30 percent of juvenile arrests, 60 percent of pre-trial detentions, and 90 percent of cases prosecuted in adult courts.

Facilities and programs are split into three budgetary categories; Non-Residential Services for Committed Population, Residential Services for Detained Population, and Residential Services for Committed Population.

Non-residential services support DYS youth living in the community with case management and counseling in areas including: anger management, substance abuse, behavior therapy, pro-social skill groups, teen dating violence prevention, employment readiness and parenting skills.

Residential Services for detained population are services for youth in custody who have yet to go to trial. DYS uses the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) to divert low risk youth from secure detention to more appropriate and less costly alternative placements. The majority of youth detained are not convicted and alternative placements allows DYS to avoid mixing detained youth with higher risk youth in secure facilities.

Residential services for committed population are facilities which house convicted youth. Services include assessment programs, short term treatment programs and long term secure treatment programs. There are a range of facilities from secure group homes and transitional living programs to highly secure locked facilities. A small percentage of youth who have been charged with or convicted of murder, or who face adult sentences, are held in a juvenile unit within the adult county prison system.

While funding for juvenile justice has decreased, DYS has reduced the population in custody, and the number of detained and committed youth in more expensive longer term locked facilities. Unfortunately this reduction also includes racial disparities. From 2006 to 2010 the detention of white youth decreased 42 percent while the detention of youth of color decreased 27 percent.

See also funding for school-aged children inInstitutional Schools and Houses of Correction.

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