Archive 2008 - 2019

Progressive Juvenile Justice Reform in Massachusetts

by Senator Karen Spilka

Recent juvenile justice reform accomplishments and ongoing initiatives and priorities in Massachusetts include:

Raise the Age

This year, both branches of the Legislature passed legislation, subsequently signed into law by Governor Patrick in September, to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction by one year, bringing 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice court and support services system. Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction acknowledges the unique developmental needs of teenagers and will give many young offenders the chance to receive the support services they need to get back on track and succeed in the future.


Child in Need of Services (CHINS) Reform

In 2012, the Legislature completely overhauled the CHINS system, which handles children who consistently get in trouble at home or at school, including runaways and students who are habitually truant. We created a statewide network of community resource centers for families seeking assistance, significantly reforming the previous court-based system. These family resource centers are now in the process of identifying the specific behavioral, preventative and educational resources and services that they will provide for communities.

Juvenile Sentencing Reform

This session, the Legislature is considering important reforms to juvenile sentencing options in Massachusetts and Life Without Parole sentences for young offenders. These changes take into account the developmental differences between youth and adults and young people’s capacity to change and grow.


Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network

I have been actively involved in the Models for Change initiative's reform efforts in Massachusetts, including the program's Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network. The team works to develop fair, effective divisions of juvenile defense and juvenile advocacy in the state's public defender agency.


Read the MacArthur Foundation's overview of my work in juvenile justice reform, and read The MetroWest Daily News coverage of the award.

 To learn more about the MacArthur Foundation's Models for Change initiative, click here.


Warm Regards,



Senator Karen E. Spilka

2nd Middlesex and Norfolk