- Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth
Media Contact for LGBTQ Youth Commission Commends Criminal Justice Reform Effort
Dharani Persaud, Coordinator
BOSTON — The Commission on LGBTQ Youth extends its gratitude to the many legislators, activists, and others across the Commonwealth who worked to produce the criminal justice reform package that was released publicly on Friday. Criminal justice has been one of the Commission’s three focus areas for the past year, after it was identified by Commission members as being one of the areas in which LGBTQ youth - especially those of color - face the greatest disparities in Massachusetts.
The final bill includes several provisions specific to juvenile justice that the Commission believes will make a positive difference for LGBTQ and all youth. The package includes decriminalizing some public order and low-level offenses for young people, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 7 to 12 years of age, and creating a parent-child legal privilege. The Commission has worked with the Juvenile Justice Coalition throughout the reform process and was pleased to see that many of the Coalition’s priorities were included in the final package.
The bill also includes specific protections for LGBTQ people who are incarcerated, especially for transgender individuals, who are prone to violence and mistreatment while in jail and prison. A special commission on LGBTQ incarceration would be created by the law, which marks a positive step in further exploring disparities and needs. The language is the result of an amendment introduced in the Senate by Senators Julian Cyr, Patricia Jehlen, Michael Barrett, Adams Hinds, and James Timilty. A separate amendment that would have increased data collection relevant to LGBTQ individuals in prison had been filed by lead sponsors Senator Adams Hinds and Representative Elizabeth Malia. While LGBTQ-inclusive data collection was ultimately not included in the final version of the bill, the Commission hopes that future efforts at reform - including the Commission’s own work with state entities like the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security - might result in increased data collection in the future.
In addition to those who supported LGBTQ-specific aspects of the reform effort, the Commission is grateful to House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Harriette Chandler for their leadership on this issue, as well as to the members of the conference committee, including Leader Ronald Mariano, Chairwoman Claire Cronin, Representative Sheila Harrington, Chairman William Brownsberger, Senator Cynthia Creem, and Senator Bruce Tarr.
There are many reasons as to why LGBTQ youth are more likely to become involved in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. LGBTQ youth are more likely to be involved with the foster care system as well as to experience homelessness, both of which are major pathways into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. LGBTQ youth are also more likely to face bullying and violence in schools, which frequently results in all involved parties facing discipline, and they are more likely to use illicit substances, often as a way of coping. All of this is especially true for LGBTQ youth of color, who also encounter widespread inequalities in the criminal justice system based on racial and ethnic disparities.
If the bill becomes law, the Commission will be ready to assist all branches of government in ensuring that it is effectively and equitably implemented and enforced. The Commission regularly provides advice, research, and technical assistance to agencies and legislators in evaluating policies and programs for their inclusion of LGBTQ youth.
“The Commission is very excited to see meaningful progress made on reforming the criminal justice system and dismantling racial inequality,” said its director, Corey Prachniak-Rincón. “And with the creation of a special commission to study the issues facing LGBTQ individuals facing incarceration, we are sure that this will be just the start this important conversation.”