BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday signed into law a bill placing 17-year-olds accused of crimes under the jurisdiction of the state's juvenile courts.
Currently in Massachusetts, 17-year-olds are treated as adults, regardless of the circumstances or severity of the offense.
Thirty-nine other states and the federal government use 18 as the age of adult criminal jurisdiction.
The new law provides for 17-year-olds to be ordered into the custody of the Department of Youth Services, rather than into an adult prison or jail. In cases of violent crimes, however, juvenile court judges would have the discretion to impose an adult sentence.
The law also means 17-year-olds won't receive an adult criminal record. Supporters say that change will help youthful offenders get beyond their early mistakes and get a fresh start on life.
Patrick said the new law will give young people the chance to rehabilitate their lives while holding the most violent offenders accountable.
"We are working hard to make the investments in education and job training," he said. "But whether we like it or not, some children still fall through the cracks and we must not give up on them."
Supporters of the change say in almost all other legal matters in Massachusetts - including voting, entering into a contract and serving on a jury - 18 is the age of adulthood.