Young Adult Justice Experts' Research Supports Connecticut Governor's Unprecedented Proposal to Raise Juvenile Court Age to 21

PCJ Leaders weigh in on Gov. Malloy's Proposal of a New Justice Initiative for Young Adults

Experts at the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) support proposed justice reform in Connecticut that was announced this morning by Governor Dannel Malloy. During a speech at the University of Connecticut Law School, Governor Malloy proposed that his state raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction through age 20, and that a separate process be developed for handing cases for defendants and offenders under the age of 25. His proposal mirrors recommendations by Harvard Kennedy School researchers, and if enacted, would make Connecticut the first state in US history to raise the age of juvenile, or family, court jurisdiction beyond age 18.

"Governor Malloy's new proposal for young adult justice puts Connecticut on the cutting edge of reform. Raising the age and developing a new kind of criminal justice for young adults promises a smarter and fairer approach to public safety," said Bruce Western, Faculty Chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management and Director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

The governor's proposal comes at a time when criminal justice experts are building momentum for changes in the treatment of justice-involved young adults. Behavioral science and brain research show that young adults' brains are developmentally closer to those of adolescents than to older adults - a finding with implications for the criminal justice system. Furthermore, adolescence itself has become elongated, compared with that of previous generations. Today's young people finish college, find jobs, get married, and leave home - all markers of desistance from criminal behavior - much later than their parents did.

"With this first-in-the-nation proposal, Governor Malloy and the state of Connecticut are at the forefront of reform in addressing the needs and opportunities posed by young, court-involved adults," said Vincent Schiraldi, Senior Research Fellow who leads the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management along with Bruce Western. Prior to joining HKS, Schiraldi was the Commissioner of Probation for New York City. "As states look to catch up with emerging research in brain science and developmental psychology, Connecticut will be the standard bearer for others to emulate."

New research in this area of young adult justice comes from the Executive Session on Community Corrections (2013-2016), facilitated by the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. In Community-Based Responses to Justice-Involved Young Adults, the authors explain their vision of a system that extends the reach of the juvenile court to reflect a modern understanding of the transition into adulthood, and their primary recommendation is that the age of juvenile court jurisdiction be raised to 21 with additional, gradually diminishing protections for young adults up to age 24 or 25. 

This inaugural report comes from a new series, New Thinking in Community Corrections and was written by Schiraldi, Western, and Kendra Bradner.

About the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management

The Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ), located within the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), conducts research and sponsors activities to promote sound policy and effective management in the administration of safety and justice.

We do this through action research, course instruction and curriculum development, and by maintaining long-lasting partnerships with practitioners and other scholars. We organize executive sessions- intensive conversations among leading practitioners and scholars in a specific field that span several years, punctuated by research, practical experimentation, and collaborative publications.

  • See links (at right) for additional resources
  • Learn more about our efforts surrounding Young Adult Justice
  • Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook and continue the conversation #YoungAdultJustice