Massachusetts began as an Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative site in 2006 with two counties, Worcester and Suffolk (Boston).  These sites were chosen for their high number of lower-level juveniles in detention.  The Department of Youth Services (DYS), which is the juvenile justice agency for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has been the lead agency for the JDAI initiative.  Since inception, the decision was made to take the JDAI model state-wide.  In 2009, Middlesex and Essex counties joined the initiative.  In 2013, Bristol and Hampden Counties joined the initiative.  Now JDAI has active local steering committees in six of Massachusetts’ fourteen counties.  Those six counties will contain all the secure detention centers operated by DYS in the state, and will encompass nearly all the major population centers. More importantly, as a state-wide expansion site, the Massachusetts JDAI Governance Committee is directing all of the JDAI work in the state.  Local committees also have the support of state-wide subcommittees on Conditions of Confinement, Alternatives to Detention, Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED)/Disproportionate Minority Confinement (DMC), Data, Risk Assessment Instrument, Case Processing, and Special Populations.
JDAI was brought to Massachusetts due to the combined work of the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Council (JJAC) and the vision of then- Commissioner Jane E. Tewksbury.  Commissioner Tewksbury fundamentally believed that many of the children in the care of DYS could be safety monitored in the community without the unintended harms associated with secure detention. The Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency, was a strong and early supporter of the JDAI initiative.  Quickly, the Massachusetts Juvenile Courts, Probation Services and the Department of Children and Families joined as initial partners and have continued in partnership through today to work towards detention reform for children.

Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System Today

Massachusetts created the nation's first publicly funded juvenile correctional system in 1846 when it opened the Massachusetts State Reform School in Westborough for 400 boys. Currently, the state-wide juvenile court system has eleven divisions and forty court sessions.  Those courts handled over 17,500 delinquency complaints and over 330 youthful offender indictments in 2012.  Massachusetts upholds the right of all juveniles to have a right to a jury trial in the case of all delinquency proceedings.  Massachusetts reorganized the juvenile justice laws in the mid-1990s, to remove transfer hearings for juveniles.  Instead, more serious offenders on certain charges between the ages of 14 and 17 years of age may be indicted as a “youthful offender” from which, after trial, they could possibly receive an adult sentence, a juvenile sentence or a combined sentence, though the entirety of their case will proceed in the juvenile court.

In 2012, nearly six thousand children came before a juvenile court judge on a delinquency complaint. In 2012, the Department of Youth Services, the juvenile justice agency for the Commonwealth, admitted nearly 2,000 children to bail.  In 2011 there were a total of 2,759 children under the supervision of the Juvenile Probation Department. Ultimately, in 2012, 386 youth were committed to DYS’s care and custody following the adjudication on their delinquency or youthful offender case.  On a delinquency case, juveniles may receive an indeterminate sentence of a commitment to DYS custody until the age of 18 (or at limited times, to age 19).  Juvenile judges have no discretion to impose a different sentence length.  

Recent Legislative Changes affecting Juveniles

In 2012 the Massachusetts Legislature re-wrote many of the laws governing status offenses, now called Children Requiring Assistance (CRA).  A major shift in the law was to promote community based Family Resource Centers to support families, at time without the need for court intervention at all.

In 2013, the Senate and House of Representatives passed a bail to raise the age of majority for purposes of delinquency proceedings from 17 to 18 years old.  Governor Devel Patrick signed that bill into law in September 2013, effectively raising the age for juvenile court proceedings to include the day before a young person’s eighteenth birthday. This move acknowledges that science of adolescent development and protects children from the harms of adult proceedings and adult sentences.

Bail and Detention in Massachusetts

Unique as compared with many JDAI sites, Massachusetts has a bail statute which guides a Juvenile Court’s decision regarding bail for every child.  Once arrested, every child charged with an act of delinquency is brought before a juvenile judge that day or at the court’s next sitting. Youth may also be summonsed to appear if police do not believe that arrest is necessary to assure the youth’s appearance.  When before the judge, at the time of their arraignment on a delinquency, the youth is given the assistance of the counsel (if indigent, at the government’s expense).  Prior to their arraignment, the youth and family are interviewed by the probation department.  

At the point of an arraignment on a new charge, the judge must decide whether to release a child on their own recognizance or to set bail.  The judge may also release the child with certain conditions to follow during the pendency of their case.  The bail statute presumes personal recognizance unless the court believes that the youth is likely to fail to appear at future court appearances.  The bail statute delineates seventeen factors for the court to consider when deciding if the youth is likely to fail to appear.  It is important to note that public safety, or danger to the community, is not a factor in this list, and the Commonwealth’s appellate courts have specifically determined that this is not a proper factor for a judge to consider under the bail statute.  

Instead, only by motion of the prosecuting authority at the youth’s first court appearance, the Commonwealth can move to potentially hold a child without any bail, but only after a “dangerousness hearing” which is a full due process hearing with live witnesses.  In addition, the court can order a child held without a bail for ninety days, as a potential danger to the community only if the judge determines that there are no other conditions which could reasonably assure the safety of the community.

When a youth has a first appearance, on an alleged violation of probation, the juvenile is arraigned in front of a juvenile court judge on the surrender notice.  The youth is entitled to counsel. The judge must determine whether to release the juvenile pending the final disposition hearing, or to hold the juvenile without bail pending the final hearing.  If held on the pending violation case the juvenile has no right to have a bail set.  Neither statutes nor court rules currently provide guidance as to how a judge should make the determination to hold or release pending a final violation hearing.

Risk Assessment Instrument

Given the above bail statute which lays out the factors for a judge to consider when setting bail, the formulation of a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) in Massachusetts has been difficult.  After some early attempts, the JDAI RAI committee reached out the leading experts in the creation of risk assessment tools who are at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Gina Vincent and Dr. Thomas Grisso.  Understanding that a tool could not be used at the courthouse that would be predicting future risk to public safety as that is not a proper factor for bail, the researchers developed a study to determine which of the statutory bail factors and the factors from literature were in fact predictive of the youth’s appearance for the remainder of their case.  That study has been underway, and currently the researchers are doing a secondary separate validation study. After the study’s completion, hopefully in the Winter of 2014, the RAI committee, will begin the work of assessing the study, creating a final tool, and working through how that tool will be implemented in the juvenile court setting.

Detention Placement Instrument & Alternatives to Detention

At the outset of JDAI in Massachusetts the juvenile justice agency in Massachusetts, the Department of Youth Services (DYS), was operating locked secure detention centers for youth held on bail or held without bail.  In 2005 and 2006, there were nearly five thousand children held on bail each year.  Upon reviewing data on the detention population, DYS recognized that least 75% of all youth were detained on low-level offenses.  When creating internal capacity to expand options to locked secure units, DYS desired to create some objective screening to assess which youth should be provided access to the alternatives.  The Detention Placement Instrument (DPI) is now used for every youth held on bail.  The tool reflects the youth’s past and current court involvement and past defaults, and a score of low, medium, or high is used to determine eligibility for screening for alternatives.  The goal is to place the right youth, in the right place, for the right reason.

Youth who score low on the DPI are referred to the reception centers, if available in their community, to be assessed for possible supported foster care placement.  In 2010, DYS opened the Central Region Reception Center in Worcester, which has placed over 400 youth in foster care settings while their cases were pending.  There have been no failures to appear in these cases and all of the youth are able to return to their home school.   The success of this program garnered it the Manuel Caraballo award for Excellence in 2013 from Governor Deval Patrick.  In 2013, another county opened a reception center, and more are planned throughout the state.

To continue to expand the continuum of placement options, DYS has also opened shelter care programs for both boys and girls.  This option is designed for youth who have a medium score on the DPI.  Currently, shelter care options for boys are available the Northeast, Southeast, and Western regions of the state. Youth who score high on the DPI are referred to the secure detention facilities. A fundamental value in this initiative is to provide Justice by Geography through, in part, the diversification of detention placement options within DYS to all detained youth in the Commonwealth.



The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) in Massachusetts works to ensure that “the right youth, is in the right place, for the right reasons.”


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.