Police are warning it’s a “slippery slope” to blindly raise the age of juvenile offenders from 18 to 21, with other officials saying programs to keep teens out of jail are safer alternatives.

The Emerging Adults in the Criminal Justice System Task Force met for the fourth time Monday to look at recommendations on raising the age an offender is sent to adult court past 18 to 21 years old.

“We are definitely open-minded and ready to hear the discussion about it, but there are definitely some concerns,” said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who testified with Cambridge Deputy Superintendent Robert Lowe. Kyes said changing the age from 17 to 18 years old made sense when it was done in 2013, but he’d need a lot more data to be convinced to hike it again.

“I am happy to hear the data, but where do we draw the line?” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian.

Studies have shown that brains don’t fully develop until young adults hit 25, prompting many at the hearing to question when to treat kids as adults.

“If we raise the age to 19 or 20, then why not 21, 22, 23, 24 or even 25?” said Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association. “It is a slippery slope.”

He added the idea is still in the discussion phase.

The cops, along with Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and John Millett, statewide supervisor for the Juvenile Court Department, talked about how diversionary programming already in place may be a viable solution.

Millett and Ryan said the programs are designed to reduce recidivism rates and are looking to work even more with parents and their children to keep teens out of jail.

Ryan explained to the panel that in Chelsea, youth offenders have to write an essay about their experience, adding: “If you have any doubts about this being effective, read just one essay and I promise you won’t feel like that anymore.”

Lowe explained to the task force how in Cambridge, building relationships between the police and youths through school- and community-based programs has lead to a decrease in juvenile arrests by 10 percent in the last year as well as no arrests in the schools.

The task force faces a July 1 deadline to report their work to the Legislature. The group was created under the state’s 2018 criminal justice reform law.

The task force is chaired by state Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) and state Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem).


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