Four months after the Rhode Island legislature passed a bill to lower the age of adult court jurisdiction to 17, state officials are starting to see what the experts they so dutifully ignored had been talking about. Contrary to the predictions of the bill’s supporters, and in line with the criticisms of juvenile justice advocates who saw the danger of the measure, the transfer is not cutting costs, is creating confusion and is inappropriately exposing teens with petty crimes on their record to a harmful, and hardening, environment.
Wrong direction, Rhode Island. Time to unshred those documents from the experts and get to work undoing the damage. For guidance, consider looking to your neighbor Connecticut, which recently agreed to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18 beginning in 2010.
As for the other states that try 17-year-olds as adults–that means you, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin–you’re officially on notice. And New York and North Carolina, where 16-year-old delinquents are considered adult criminals under the law, you’ve got some serious catching up to do.