Judicial officials and Beacon Hill policymakers are starting to develop new methods of disciplining adolescents, focused more on their level of maturity than punishment through a jail term that could shape the rest of their life. 

Officials and advocates are looking at new ways to approach offenders who are more impulsive and prone to crime when they're young before they get trapped in a loop of offense and recidivism.

"It's important to keep remembering that intellectually, young adults are in one place, but their psycho-emotional skills are in another," said Molly Baldwin, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Roca Inc., an organization that provides aid and job skills for at-risk populations. "And so if we can pay attention to that and really give people the skills they need so they can become the great people they want to be, I think that's awesome."

Paying attention to the latest science, Vinny Schiraldi, director of the Kennedy School's program in criminal justice policy and management, said, "would way advance the ball in a population that's many times more likely to get recycled through the system than older adults ... who we can get them past around their 25th birthday without accruing a felony conviction, is very unlikely to get a felony conviction after that."

Probation Commissioner Ed Dolan is working with new data on neuroscience and development to treat young offenders differently than more mature people in the system.

"Who kids are at 12, 15, 18, 25—so it's really bringing the science to work and in a very measured way. It's meeting people where they are," Dolan said.

According to a report the think tank MassINC published in December, young adults under 24 years old are more likely to go to Massachusetts prisons than any other group—and they end up back there the fastest.