New law lets juveniles off in Lynn

High school vandals under 12 face no charges

The state’s new criminal justice law, signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in April, is already having an impact.

Four juveniles, one who was 13 and the others younger than 12, allegedly broke into Lynn English High School over the weekend and caused significant damage. Only the 13-year-old was arrested and charged because of a provision in the new law that raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12. The other three juveniles, one as young as nine, were released to their parents.

According to the Daily Item, the two boys and two girls broke into the school on both Saturday and Sunday but weren’t caught until Sunday when a coach who was at the school notified authorities.

The extent of the damage was unclear, but officials said it was extensive. Walls were spray painted, classrooms were vandalized, barrels were overturned, television sets were broken, and a floor waxing machine was driven through a wall in the kitchen, scattering food everywhere.

John Ford, a school committee member who serves as the chairman of the building and grounds subcommittee, told the Daily Item that it was crazy that police couldn’t do anything to the juveniles under 12. He said there is no way to discipline them.

The provision in the new law raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 did not get a lot of attention during the legislative process. More controversial was a proposal to raise the age of criminal majority from 18 to 19, which would have allowed 19-year-olds to be processed through the juvenile rather than the adult court system. That provision didn’t make it into the final law.

The Massachusetts Association of District Attorneys opposed both provisions. The association, in a letter to Senate officials, said raising the age of criminal prosecution to 12 was “the proverbial solution in search of a problem, the unintended consequences of which could be quite serious.”

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Bruce Mohl

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The DAs said they were unaware of any cases where young children had been prosecuted. But they said charges were often filed against young people — not to pursue a criminal prosecution but to provide standing for the courts to provide the child and his or her family with the intervention, counseling, and assistance needed.

Rep. Claire Cronin of Brockton, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, predicted raising the age of prosecution from 7 to 12 would reduce the number of young people ensnared in the state’s criminal justice system. “There’s an indisputable link between the age in which a child enters our criminal justice system and the likelihood of a child remaining in the system throughout their life,” she said.