Studying juvenile cutoff age, task force checks out DYS facility
Finds recidivism rates have dropped significantly
A STATE TASK FORCE TRYING TO DECIDE whether the cutoff age for juvenile criminal offenders should be raised above 18 traveled to a Department of Youth Services facility this week to hear first-hand what’s different about a correctional system designed for youthful offenders.
What they learned at the Judge Connelly Youth Center in Roslindale was that education programs provided at the center combined with support services upon release have dramatically cut recidivism rates.
“I couldn’t be more impressed by what I saw,” said Rep. Paul Tucker of Salem, the co–chair of the Emerging Adults Task Force. The task force, created by legislation, is due to report by July 1 on whether the cutoff age should be raised and by how much.
One of the key concerns is whether putting offenders who are 18, 19, 20, or 21 in an adult correctional setting leads to higher recidivism rates. At the Connelly Youth Center, DYS Commissioner Peter Forbes said a program providing support services in the first six months after release is showing great promise.
The most recent study statistics provided to Commonwealth Magazine of those released in 2016 showed significant improvement, with the recidivism rate for those participating in the YES program falling to 14 percent, compared to 26 percent for those who did not participate.
Agency officials say that approximately 50 percent of incarcerated youth discharged from DYS are opting to engage in the voluntary YES program.
Forbes said about 600 people were in DYS custody statewide last year. He said that the department is using therapy, education, and career planning to help them develop skills to avoid returning to a life of crime once they get out. They spend 5 ½ hours per day in classes, and the number of students taking colleges courses jumped from 16 in 2016 to 98 in 2018. Four colleges are offering online and face-to-face classes, including Bunker Hill and Holyoke Community Colleges.
Komlen, who asked that his last name not be used, was formerly incarcerated at the Connelly Youth Center and returned for the task force presentation. He said he had dropped out of high school before coming to Connelly, where he finished the equivalent of a GED and took online classes offered by Bunker Hill Community College and Urban College. He is about to transfer to UMass Lowell.
“I’m just hoping to be an accountant,” he said.
Leon Smith, a task force member who serves as the executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, which advocates for improvements to the juvenile justice system, said the agency is well equipped to handle an influx of new inmates if the cutoff age for youth criminal offenders is raised.
“What they’re offering, and the work they’re doing shows me they’re very able and very capable to not just serve, but serve well, the young people, should we raise the age in Massachusetts,“ he said.
“We have a state agency that is already adequately providing services to an older population,” Smith said.The focus on education at DYS is markedly different from a standard adult house of corrections, Smith said. “It’s not just reducing recidivism but having juveniles leave these behaviors behind,” he said. “Education is an important piece of that.“