Emerging Adult Justice

The Emerging Adult Justice Project leads action-research projects focused on 18- to 25-year-olds involved in the justice system. Our mission is to inform and drive developmentally appropriate and effective justice responses that advance successful paths to adulthood. 

Visit the Emerging Adult Justice Project website to learn more.

Emerging Adult Justice Initiatives

Research and Policy Development

The Emerging Adult Justice Project conducts action-research projects and publishes reports to thoughtfully guide, shape, and develop policies, laws, and practices that provide for developmentally appropriate justice implementation. The EAJ’s research and policy projects aim to elevate the ripening policy conversation regarding young adult justice reform to render it a viable option for policymakers, administrators, and advocates. 

The project’s research and policy development activities include:

  • Conducting, publishing and publicly promoting, high-impact research reports defining the challenges facing young adults, innovative approaches to address those challenges, and best and emerging practices regarding emerging adult justice;
  • Providing research and guidance to states that are poised to enact changes to their emerging adult justice system; and
  • Developing a communications strategy to help amplify research and best practices developed on young adult justice reform, and strategically engage audiences to promote policy change.

Emerging Adult Justice Learning Community

The Emerging Adult Justice Learning Community (EAJLC) is a carefully organized collaborative learning environment that brings together researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and advocates twice a year over a three-year period in order to create more developmentally appropriate, effective and fairer criminal justice responses for youths ages 18 – 25. Participants of the Learning Community are all engaged in some aspect of this work in their professional pursuits.

Despite the fact that emerging adults have some of the worst criminal justice outcomes in our justice system, little attention has been paid to the research that would support new and improved justice system responses. The Learning Community’s goals are to provide researchers and policymakers access to one another in order to increase learning, practice and policy innovations by translating academic research into effective policies and developing opportunities to research burgeoning practices that contribute to a more equitable treatment of this population.

Technical Assistance

The Emerging Adult Justice Project provides specialized support and consulting services to jurisdictions’ efforts to reform justice practices for emerging adults.

Emerging Adult Justice Newsletter

To join our listserv and keep up with emerging adult justice news and events, contact Maya Sussman.

April 13, 2018 - Massachussetts passes a landmark criminal justice reform bill

On Friday, April 13th, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill into law. The landmark bill aims to develop a more equitable system that supports the state's youngest and most vulnerable residents, reduces recidivism, increases judicial discretion, and enhances public safety. Learn more about the bill here.

April 5, 2018 – Middlesex County in Massachusetts launches a new specialized correctional unit for emerging adults

In February 2018, the Middlesex House of Correction launched a new emerging adult unit in Massachusetts: People Achieving Change Together (P.A.C.T.). It is part of a new initiative designed for 18-to 24-year olds that are sentenced to incarceration. The unit offers age-appropriate rehabilitative programs that prepare young/emerging adults for life after release. To learn more about the new P.A.C.T. unit, read In Billerica, Young Prisoners Give Freedom A Trial Run. 

March 23, 2018 – New Blog Post Series: Reflections on how Europe handles emerging adults in trouble with the law

Emerging Adult Project at the Justice Lab organized an educational trip around Europe to consider different models of justice for emerging adults – young people between the ages of 18 to 25. The director of the Emerging Adult Project, Lael Chester, and the co-director of the Justice Lab, Vincent Schiraldi, visited Netherlands and Croatia in the first part of this trip, and are now in Germany with a Massachusetts delegation. This blog post series by Vincent Schiraldi shares insights and reflections from this trip as it happens. Read the series here.

March 22, 2018 – Why including emerging adults in CT’s juvenile justice system makes sense

On March 22, the Joint Committee on Judiciary in Connecticut held a public hearing on the proposed EAJ legislation, HB5040 and HB5042Read this op-ed by Justice Lab’s Vincent Schiraldi and Lael Chester on CT’s proposed emerging adult justice reform.

March 22, 2018 – Justice Lab hosts an educational trip to Germany on emerging adult justice

Columbia University’s Justice Lab hosts its first-ever educational trip to Germany for a Massachusetts delegation to learn about European emerging adult justice systems. See the media advisory and itinerary of the educational trip.

February 8, 2018 - New Emerging Adult Justice Reform Bills in Illinois and Connecticut

Legislative sessions in 2018 across the country are already seeing an increased emphasis on emerging adult justice reform. Learn more about such reform initiatives in Illinois and Connecticut.

The Promise of Adolescence: Realizing Opportunity for All Youth Richard J. Bonnie and Emily P. Backes (eds.). The National Academies Press. 2019.

Violence-Related Disparities Experienced by Black Youth and Young Adults: Opportunities for Prevention Sheats et al. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2018.

Addressing the Intersections of Juvenile Justice Involvement and Youth Homelessness: Principles for Change Lisa Pilnik Darla Bardine, Laura Furr, Meghan Maury, Melissa Sickmund, Naomi Smoot and Jason Szanyi. Coalition for Juvenile Justice. 2017.

Mending the Federal Sentencing Guidelines Approach to Consideration of Juvenile Status Harvard Law Review. 2017.

Improving Approaches to Serving Young Adults in the Justice System Justice Policy Institute. 2016. 

When Is an Adolescent an Adult? Assessing Cognitive Control in Emotional and Nonemotional Contexts Cohen et al. Psychological Science.

Viewing Justice Reinvestment through a Developmental Lens: New Approaches to Reducing Young Adult Recidivism in MA Ben Forman and Sarah Yee. MassINC. 2015. 

Young Adults in Conflict with the Law: Opportunities for Diversion Kanako Ishida. Juvenile Justice Initiative. 2015.

Reducing Recidivism & Improving Other Outcomes for Young Adults in the Juvenile & Adult Criminal Justice System Council of State Governments Justice Center (CSG). 2015.

The Psychology of Cruelty: Recognizing Grave Mental Harm in American Prisons Harvard Law Review. 2015.

Have You Ever Been Convicted of a Crime? The Effects of Juvenile Expungement on Crime, Educational, and Labor Market Outcomes Daniel Litwok. Job Market Paper. 2014.

From Juvenile Delinquency to Young Adult Offending: Study Group on the Transitions between Juvenile Delinquency & Adult Crime Rolf Loeber, David P. Farrington, David Petechuk. National Institute of Justice. 2013.

Maturation of the Adolescent Brain Arain et al. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2013.

In Search of a Job: Criminal Records as Barriers to Employment Amy Solomon. 2011.​​​

The Impact of Incarceration on Young Offenders Kristy Matsuda. 2009.

The Adolescent Brain B.J. Casey, Rebecca M. Jones, Todd A. Hare. Ann NY Acad of Sci. 2008. 

Crime in Emerging Adulthood: Continuity and Change in Criminal Offending Alex R. Piquero, Robert Brame, Paul Mazerolle, Rudy Haapanen. 2001.

Emerging Adulthood: A Theory of Development From the Late Teens Through the Twenties Jeffrey Arnett. American Psychologist. 2000.

A cognitive neuroscientist warns that the U.S. justice system harms teen brains Science News. May 22, 2019. Laura Sanders.

Advocates Press States to Recognize that Young Adults Can Change Too The Appeal. April 25, 2019. Daniel Nichanian.

The unforeseen directions of raising juvenile court ages in Massachusetts The Telegram. April 3, 2019. An Peng.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs law creating parole review for young offenders with lengthy sentences The Chicago Tribune. April 1, 2019. Dan Petrella.

German-Style Program at a Connecticut Maximum Security Prison Emphasizes Rehab for Inmates CBS. March 31, 2019. Bill Whitaker.

Should Young Adults be Sent to Juvenile Courts? NPR Illinois. March 11, 2019. Dana Vollmer.

'Emerging adults' focus of report on state legal system Chicago Law Bulletin. January 24, 2019. Andrew Maloney.

Report: Illinois Justice Needs Age-Appropriate Approach Public News Service. January 24, 2019. Mary Kuhlman.

In the Merrimack Valley, a vital experiment in criminal justice reform The Boston Globe. January 22, 2019. The Editorial Board.

Suffolk Sheriff Sets Up Family-Oriented Cellblock to Keep Young Inmates Out of Jail WBUR News. November 30, 2018. Simon Rios.

Age-Based Justice System Approach Overlooks That Adolescence Extends Beyond Age 18, Scientists Say Inside Science. November 15, 2018. Ramin Skibba.

North American Regional Consultation for NGOs in Support of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty [Video] Youth First Initiative. October 10, 2018.

Adult offenders could be held in Ventura County juvenile hall and treated under new law Ventura County Star. October 1, 2018. Kathleen Wilson.

Will Illinois Join National "Raise the Age" Wave? Public News Service. July 24, 2018. Mary Kuhlman.

New prison unit opens to help young female inmates The CT Mirror. July 9, 2018. Clarice Silber.

Vermont rolls out a new idea to rehabilitate young offenders Christian Science Monitor. July 6, 2018. David Jordan, Associated Press.

Dick Sears and Vincent Schiraldi: Vermont leads the way on juvenile justice reform Bennington Banner. July 5, 2018. Sen. Dick Sears, and Vincent Schiraldi.

A state takes novel steps to rehabilitate young criminals Star Tribune. July 5, 2018. David Jordan.

Mass. watching as Vermont pulls teenagers into family court State House News Service. July 4, 2018. Katie Lannan.

Graduates of Young Adult Court in SF get second chance to beat the odds San Francisco Chronicle. June 29, 2018. Lauren Hernandez.

From At-Risk Youth to Productive Adult: New Research and Juvenile Justice Reforms Help Kids Who Commit Crimes Get Back on the Right Track State Legislatures Magazine. June, 2018. Anne Teigen.

Is It Time To Raise The Juvenile Age In Massachusetts? WBUR. May 23, 2018. Deborah Becker.

The Connecticut Experiment The Marshall Project. May 8, 2018. Maurice Chammah.

UTEC youth led the charge for expungement in justice reform legislation Lowell Sun. April 28, 2018. Samantha J. Gross.

We’re not done with criminal justice reform The Boston Globe. April 18, 2018. David Scharfenberg.

In Germany, It's Hard to Find a Young Adult in Prison The Crime Report. April 10, 2018. Vincent Schiraldi.

In Billerica, Young Prisoners Give Freedom A Trial Run WGBH News. April 5, 2018. Cristina Quinn.

How Croatia’s ‘Off-Ramps’ Keep Young Adults Out of Prison The Crime Report. April 4, 2018. Vincent Schiraldi.

Raising Age to 23: It Works for the Dutch The Crime Report. March 27, 2018. Vincent Schiraldi.

Why including emerging adults in CT’s juvenile justice system makes sense CT Viewpoints. March 23, 2018. Vincent Schiraldi and Lael Chester.

Bill Would Raise Age that Kids Go to Adult Court Public News Services. February 26, 2018. Veronica Carter.

As Patriots, we support juvenile justice reform The Boston Globe. February 3, 2018. Devin McCourty, Jonathan Kraft and Robert Kraft.

Doctors Confirm it’s Hard To Grow Up, Say Adolescence Should Extend To 24 Newsweek. January 19, 2018. Janissa Delzo.

Massachusetts justice system wrestles with how to define 'adult' Christian Science Monitor. December 7, 2017. Gretel Kauffman and Bailey Bischoff.

Massachusetts criminal justice bill is welcome reform The Boston Globe. November 8, 2017. Nancy Gertner, Vincent Schiraldi, and Bruce Western.

18-year-olds can barely rent cars. Are they old enough for jail? The Boston Globe. November 8, 2017. David Scharfenberg.

Criminal justice bill can be game changer for young adults Commonwealth Magazine. October 26, 2017. Gregg Croteau and Molly Baldwin.

Extended Adolescence: When 25 Is the New 18 Scientific American. September 19, 2017. Bret Stetka.

Think outside box to deal with young adult criminals The Boston Herald. February 8, 2017. Frank G. Cousins Jr. and Steven W. Tompkins.

Who's a Kid? Science - and law enforcement - are rethinking young adults The Marshall Project (Yale University). October 28, 2016. Dana Goldstein.