In Massachusetts, young adults make up 10% of the general population but nearly 30% of people arrested. That means a disproportionate number of our young people are coming into contact with our criminal justice system. And we must ask: what kind of criminal justice system are they encountering?
Far too often, involvement in the criminal justice system worsens a young person’s prospects, rather than rehabilitating or helping them rejoin their communities by making their way into a job, school, and stable housing. The Council on State Governments Justice Center found that 76% of emerging adults (between the ages of 18 and 24) who were released from a Massachusetts county house of correction in 2011 were back in court within three years.
As Middlesex District Attorney, I will prioritize restorative justice programs to match juveniles and young adults with appropriate diversion and restorative justice programs. My office will prioritize recommending more young adults for community rehabilitation, rather than incarceration, which will make it much more likely that young people will find positive outcomes in their communities. We will collect data at each step of the criminal justice process to ensure equity and accountability, and track the success of the programs young people are participating in.
I will create a Juvenile and Emerging Adult Bureau in the DA’s Office to coordinate this important work. The Bureau will bring together victim-witness advocates, social workers, and prosecutors, and will educate assistant district attorneys and staff about the science of the adolescent brain. The Bureau will work to divert young people into evidence-based programs to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and decrease recidivism.
Brain development continues through adolescence and into adulthood. Young people are in a unique stage of brain development until they are almost 25, making them more able to successfully rehabilitate and become successful members of society. The Juvenile and Emerging Adult Bureau will screen every case involving a young person between 18 and 25. We will use this brain science to recommend diversion programs that focus on community service and rehabilitation and on restorative justice initiatives, which seek to repair the harm done to the community outside of the prison system, when they are the appropriate for each case.
Middlesex County is home to 1.6 million people across 54 cities and towns. We cannot keep conducting business as usual when it comes to our adolescents and young adults in the justice system. Too many of our young people — and their talents — are lost from our communities if we do. We must embrace evidenced-based programs that keep young adults out of prisons and put them on a path for productive lives.
Middlesex County needs a District Attorney who will step up and commit to taking bold steps to improve outcomes for young people. I look forward to hearing from you on the campaign trail and seeing you at the polls on September 4th! I invite you to get in touch with my campaign at 857-529-7081 or to visit http://www.donna4da.com to learn more about my vision for both safety and social justice as your next District Attorney.
Candidate for Middlesex District Attorney Donna Patalano