Raise the Age

Boston Celtics - Raise the Age Logo

Boston Celtics United is a multi-focus commitment to addressing racial injustice and social inequities in the Greater Boston area, with an emphasis on combating issues that have impacted the Black community as a result of the nation's long-term history of systemic racism.

The work is rooted in six pillars, each with their own priorities, mission and initiatives:

Equity in Education
Equity in Health
Economic Opportunity & Empowerment
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
Voting & Civic Engagement
Breaking Down Barriers Between Communities

The advocacy around Raise the Age is an initiative under the Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement pillar and focuses on the passage of the “Raise the Age” Bill in Massachusetts.

Play for Justice is a Represent Justice program produced by PLUS ONE society.

Why Raise the Age?

This Reform Will Decrease Crime.

  • Young adults are highly amenable to rehabilitation. Keeping 18 - 20-year-olds in the juvenile system, where they must attend school and participate in rehabilitative programming will lower recidivism.

  • CDC research has shown that similar adolescents had a 34 percent lower recidivism rate when they were in the juvenile versus adult system. In Massachusetts, the recidivism rate for formerly incarcerated young people is lower for those committed to DYS compared to those incarcerated in the adults system (26% vs. 55% re-conviction rate)

  • Transition age youth are highly influenced by their environments. Adult jail and prison increases offending behavior.

  • Massachusetts policy makers raised the age of juvenile court to keep 17-year-olds out of the adult system in 2013. Since then, juvenile crime has declined by 34%, and has seen faster declines in violent and property crime rates than the national average.

Take action

Make your voice heard by contacting your legislators or signing the petition below.

1. Sign the petition

Personally identifiable information that is submitted by individuals will be provided to Citizens for Juvenile Justice, and may be shared with the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation and/or the Boston Celtics (collectively, the “Celtics”). Any personally identifiable information provided to the Celtics will be treated in accordance with their privacy policy.

2. Contact your legislators

Method #1

Send a pre-written message to your legislators using the form below.

Personally identifiable information that is submitted by individuals will be processed by Action Network in accordance with its privacy policy and provided to Citizens for Juvenile Justice, and may be shared with the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation and/or the Boston Celtics (collectively, the “Celtics”). Any personally identifiable information provided to the Celtics will be treated in accordance with their privacy policy.

Method #2

Find Your State Representative and State Senator here. Call or email both your legislators asking them to co-sponsor H.1710 or S.942 .

Use this sample script to voice your support for Raise the Age:

My name is [_______] and I am a constituent of Representative (or Senator) [_______]. I support legal system reforms that would reduce crime in our communities and youth recidivism by ensuring that legal-system involved young people access the rehabilitative opportunities offered by the juvenile justice system. I specifically ask that you support legislation to end the automatic prosecution of older teenagers as adults.

H.1710 and S.942 will reduce crime in our communities by gradually raising the age of criminal majority so that 18-to 20-year-olds are in a more developmentally appropriate, and more effective, juvenile justice system and out of the adult criminal justice system. The juvenile system currently has the processes and the interventions that result in better public safety outcomes for youth with more serious offending than those in the adult criminal legal system. While specialized court and corrections young adult units are a positive short term and limited step, Raising the Age for all older adolescents is the only systemic solution to reducing crime and helping young people get back on the right track.

Massachusetts found that raising the age to 18 in 2013 was accompanied by continuing decreases in youth crime and that it cost taxpayers far less than predicted. The state should expand upon a policy that has already served it well.

Please let me know your decision.


Your full name
Your Street Address
City, State Zip

[Use your full home address, so they know you are a constituent]


This legislation (H.3420/S.825) will gradually raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18-20 year olds. The bill proposes a five-year implementation period to allow the various agencies to adjust to the programming and staffing to accommodate this newer population. Raising the age to 21 refers to the age at which an individual is subject to the (adult) criminal justice system.

This reform will improve public safety and decrease crime. Since Massachusetts raised the age to include 17-year-olds in the juvenile system in 2013, juvenile crime has declined by 62% in the Commonwealth – outperforming national trends in property and violent crime reductions.

Our current system- sending older teens into the adult system- is making things worse. Most young people can be held accountable and be on track for rehabilitation, particularly with developmentally appropriate interventions. However, exposure to toxic environments like adult jails and prisons can actually increase offending. The Pathways to Desistance study conducted a seven-year study of young people who have been adjudicated for serious, violent offenses to identify the factors that are tied to their desistance or persistence in offending and found that of all the factors they studied two stood out: (1) belief in the legitimacy of authority and (2) meeting adolescent developmental milestones on time.

CDC research has shown that similar adolescents had a 34 percent lower recidivism rate when they were in the juvenile v. adult system. And, young people discharged from DYS commitment have lower recidivism rates that young adults formerly incarcerated in the adult system (46% of formerly DYS committed youth were rearraigned compared to 76% of 18-24 year-old’s discharged from Houses of Corrections; and the re-conviction rate is 26% compared to 55%).

First, because we already think about this age group as separate from other adults – think about how the legal drinking age and age to legally use marijuana and tobacco is 21.

Involvement in the justice system also prevents this age group from achieving milestone that we, as a society, view as signs of maturity, like holding a steady job, having a home, and finishing one’s education, encouraging more criminal activity.

Additionally, Massachusetts already recognizes older teens as a distinct population and serves “transition age youth” through child- and adolescent-serving agencies and divisions: DCF, healthcare, DESE, DMH, DDS, labor and other state agencies have created dedicated policies and programs to support young adults' transition to independent adulthood.

Transition age youth in the child welfare system, who are most at risk of legal system involvement, may receive Department of Children and Families services up to age 23. However, if they enter the adult criminal legal system those services, especially those from child-serving agencies, can be severed. Adult legal system involvement becomes a serious impediment for these support systems to offer continuity and keep youth connected to service providers and mentors.

This legislation does not change the statutes pertaining to the prosecution and sentencing of youth charged with the most serious offenses (first or second degree murder) who are automatically tried and sentenced in (adult) Superior court.

Approximately 10% of 18- to 20-year-olds are charged with a serious felony that leads to Superior Court charges. The juvenile court currently handles almost all of these cases, including the cases of young people under the age of 21 who are indicted on serious offenses.

The court has the discretion to impose more severe, adult sentences in “youthful offender” (YO) cases. Prosecutors can seek a “Youthful Offender” indictment if the felony offense (1) resulted in or threatened to cause serious bodily injury; (2) involved a firearm; or (3) is a felony and the young person was previously committed to DYS for another offense. If a young person is adjudicated as a Youthful Offender, the Judge has the discretion to impose (1) commitment to DYS (until age 21); (2) an adult sentence; or (3) a combination of a DYS commitment and adult sentencing past the 21st birthday.

The juvenile system typically imposes more supervision and intensive programming while in confinement than the adult criminal justice system. Educational, counseling and independent living programming are difficult-to-impossible to access on the adult side. The adult system yields predictably worse outcomes for young adults

DYS has a strong history of preventing the mixing of older and younger youth. DYS has been handling youth up to their 21st birthday for over two decades. In 2017, DYS served 357 youth ages 18 and over. Slightly over half were young people serving Youthful Offender sentences in DYS until their 21st birthday. The other half are youth receiving one year of voluntary services through DYS after the end of their commitment, which could be up to their 22nd birthday.

DYS does not generally mix 20-year-olds with younger teens today. The department has a thorough evaluation process to ensure that placement is appropriate. It is not one-size fits all. DYS has many small programs that range from locked facilities to community-based programs, creating many options to separate older and younger individuals.

Even though state laws set legal rights and responsibilities of adulthood defined by a person’s age, there is no one age at which a person achieves adulthood. Instead adolescents transition into adulthood and throughout this transition our society and our laws grant young people access to positive and pro-social activities and then gradually allow access to more risky and dangerous activities:

A 14-year-old is eligible for a partial work permits; but can’t get a driver’s license until age 16, when they can also pre-register to vote. An 18-year-old can sign contracts, go to the military, give medical consent but can’t be a firefighter before age 19. A young person can’t drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or marijuana, gamble or serve as a police officer in Massachusetts until age 21, when they are also allowed to purchase any firearm or ammunition. Child support is owed to the custodial parent up to age 21 if the child is living with that parent. Age 21 is the earliest the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a child move out of pediatric care. Students with special education needs are eligible for DESE educational services until age 22. By age 25, a young person can rent a car without underage fees and by 26 they are required to acquire their own health insurance.

Raising the age of Juvenile Jurisdiction will not violate federal core requirements under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Federal law defines a “juvenile” as someone who is charged in court as a “juvenile” and therefore a young adult charged as a “juvenile” would not be considered an adult for PREA and JJDPA purposes. Read Columbia University’s response to states considering raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction past the 18th birthday.

The juvenile system already deals with 18- to 21-year-olds (those who went to court before their 18th birthdays and whose sentence extended some time up to the maximum age the juvenile can order a sentence), and it’s already involving the parents of these individuals as part of its rehabilitative process. This is not the only system in Massachusetts working with the parents of emerging adults who are 18 and older – for example, the public school system still sends report cards and communicates information about health and behavior to the parents of students who are older than 17.

A better question is: Is it appropriate to place an 18-year-old, often a high school senior, in a system where parental involvement is close to impossible?

Yes! Vermont passed in 2018 a law raising the age to include 18-year-olds by July 2020 and 19-year-olds by July 2023. Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska Virginia, Washington have legislation pending to raise the age to include 18- to 20-year-olds in their juvenile systems.

The pending bills do not provide any opportunity for the expansion of the juvenile justice system to be applied retroactively. This was also true of the enactment of earlier legislation raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in 2013, from the 17th to the 18th birthday when the Supreme Judicial Court held:

This case requires us to decide whether St.2013, c. 84(act), which extended the Juvenile Court's jurisdiction to persons who are seventeen years of age at the time of committing an offense, applies retroactively to persons who were seventeen years of age when they committed an offense and against whom criminal proceedings had begun and were pending on September 18, 2013, the effective date of the act. We conclude that the act is not retroactive to criminal cases begun and pending before September 18, 2013, against persons who were seventeen years of age at the time of the alleged offense. -- Watts v. Commonwealth, 468 Mass. 49 (2014)

The sections in the statute pertaining to juvenile life and parole sentencing are excluded from this legislation. It is possible that the SJC will find that it is unconstitutional to sentence older adolescents to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but that litigation is entirely independent of this legislation. This matter is currently being considered by the courts in the Commonwealth. In July 2022, Judge Robert Ullman of the Massachusetts Superior Court issued a ruling in Commonwealth v. Mattis and Commonwealth v Ullman, finding that juvenile life without parole for youth under 21 constituted "cruel and unusual punishment under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. In making this decision, the judge stated that "the imposition of non-discretionary (i.e. mandatory) life-without-parole sentences for defendants who were age 18 to 20 at the time of their crimes constitutes 'a sentencing practice based on mismatches between the culpability of a class and of offenders and the severity of a penalty." This decision by the Superior is currently pending action on appeal before the Supreme Judicial Court.

  • We spend the most on this age group with the worst outcomes. Young adults spend 10% to 20% more time incarcerated in Houses of Correction than any other age group. They also have the highest recidivism rate of any in the adult system – with 76% re-arraigned within three years.

  • We’re making things worse. Most young people “age out” of offending by their late twenties, particularly with developmentally appropriate interventions. Exposure to punitive environments like adult jails and prisons can actually increase offending.

  • Young Men of Color Bear the Harshest Brunt of These Policies

  • Only 25% of Massachusetts’ young adult population is Black or Latino, but 70% of young adults incarcerated in state prisons and 57% of young adults in county jails are people of color.

  • In 2015, 90% of 18 and 19 year olds in the Suffolk County Jail were Black or Hispanic or Latino.

  • Black and Latino young adults are 3.2 and 1.7 times as likely to be imprisoned as their white peers.

  • An educated workforce is one of the state’s best economic assets. Mass. employment growth will drop by more than half next year due to worker shortages as baby boomers retire. We need new workers to fill the gap. Massachusetts needs people eligible to serve in the armed forces, or get professional licenses, yet an (adult) criminal record can bar young people from these opportunities.

  • Criminal legal system involvement limits young people's access to education, including special education, and post-secondary education opportunities. Involvement in the adult system makes it less likely that a youth will graduate. This has lifelong negative consequences on young people and Massachusetts’ taxpayers.

  • Because the criminal justice system impacts young people of color at higher rates, the decrease in opportunity hits minority communities especially hard. This reform gives young people a better chance to grow up to contribute to their communities, thus helping to prevent intergenerational poverty.

  • The juvenile system typically imposes more supervision and intensive services while in confinement than the adult criminal justice system. Massachusetts DYS agency is a national model and already serves this age group. 80% of new commitments to DYS are for young people age 16 to 20. Some victims’ groups support restorative justice that holds offenders accountable; this is more available in the juvenile system.

  • The most serious crimes will continue to be eligible for adult sentences. As is currently law, young adults facing murder charges would still be tried in adult court, and prosecutors can seek a “youthful offender” indictment in other serious offenses. If adjudicated a youthful offender, the judge has the power to impose (1) a juvenile sentence (until age 21); (2) an adult sentence; or (3) a combination of juvenile and adult sentencing past their 21st birthday.

The information on the site was created by Citizens for Juvenile Justice. The "Take Action" items are shared in collaboration with Citizens for Juvenile Justice and the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition. For more information, go to www.cfjj.org.

Testimony to Massachusetts Legislature from Steve Pagliuca

Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca's Testimony in Support of H.1826/S.920.

September 2023 Testimony

Boston Celtics Testimony in Support of H.1710/S.942 An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young...

October 2021 Testimony

Testimony in Support of H.1826/S.920 An Act to Promote Public Safety and Better Outcomes for Young Adults Joint...

White House Visit Photo Gallery

Players discuss the impact of incarceration at the 2022 Boston Shamrock Foundation Tip Off Gala

A system-impacted individual, Jarrett Harper, shares his personal story

Grant Williams on Transformational Prison Project’s impact on young people

Grant Williams on being on the outside looking in

Grant Williams on systemic issues

Malcolm Brogdon on policy change

Malcom Brogdon on humanizing individuals

“Play for Justice” Event Photo Gallery

Play for Justice is a Represent Justice program produced by PLUS ONE society.

On-court photos of players/team personnel wearing Raise the Age shirts