Do you know where the children are? A Report of Massachusetts Youth Unlawfully Held Without Bail

Barbara Fedders and Barbara Kaban, Prison Policy Initiative, September 15, 2006

In 2004, over four thousand Massachusetts children and youth between the ages of seven and seventeen spent time behind bars — in some cases up to four days — after their arrest and prior to their first court appearance. While the law requires that young people must be at least fourteen years old to be detained, more than five hundred children under fourteen were so held that year.

Massachusetts law also provides that a party empowered by the judicial branch — a judge, magistrate, or bail commissioner — should review detention decisions about arrested youths, but many children and adolescents are unlawfully deprived of this opportunity. Routinely, decisions to detain young people are based solely on juvenile probation officers’ recommendations, which are made pursuant to a cursory consideration of facts, and without benefit of written procedures or guidelines – all in violation of due process principles. Probation officers frequently recommend detention for youths accused of minor offenses, rather than reserving it for the most serious and dangerous offenders.

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