Juvenile Court

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals

The Juvenile Court oversees cases involving delinquency, Child Requiring Assistance cases (CRAs), Care and Protection petitions, adult contributing to a delinquency of a minor cases, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offender cases. In general, the Juvenile Court handles cases involving young people, ages 7 through 17.

In FY2015, the Juvenile Court handled some 38,700 cases. The large majority of cases (roughly two-thirds) that come before the Juvenile Court involve charges brought against young people. Depending on the nature of the offense, a young person that comes before the Juvenile Court will be prosecuted either as a "delinquent" or as a "youthful offender." Penalties for delinquency include probation (often with conditions mandating school or work attendance, rehabilitation program attendance and/or community service) or commitment to a Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility for a period of time set by the judge, up to age 18. Over a quarter of the total Juvenile Court cases in 2015 were juvenile delinquency cases.

For those defendants found guilty as youthful offenders (a charge applied only to youths 14 or older, and who are accused of more serious or repeat offenses), a guilty verdict may result in commitment to a DYS facility until age 21 or an adult sentence or a combination of the two. Less than one percent of cases handled by the Juvenile Courts involve young people charged as youthful offenders.

About a quarter of cases handled by the Juvenile Court primarily involve Child Requiring Assistance cases or "CRAs" (prior to 2012, called CHINS, or Children in Need of Services) and Care and Protection cases. CRAs encourages police to work with community-based services when addressing the needs of children who require additional support. Under the CRA model, when police officers encounter habitual runaway, disobedient or truant children, the officers no longer can arrest them, handcuff or shackle them. If the officers choose to detain the child, they must attempt to place the child in an age-appropriate group home or shelter before turning to a court detention facility. The child may not be placed in a facility designated for delinquent children. If the courts do become involved in a CRA case, children and families have better access to legal counsel and better-defined rights to speedy adjudication than under the older CHINS model. As part of the shift to the CRA model, the state expanded the number of Family Access Centers.

A relatively small share of cases (about 5 percent) involve adoption, guardianship, and paternity issues.

The Juvenile Court Department was created as part of the 1978 reorganization of the Massachusetts trial court system in order to provide specialized handling and services for youth who become involved with the state's legal system. The Juvenile Court holds session in more than forty locations throughout the Commonwealth.

Updated August 2016

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