Right Way, Rhode Island?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Rhode Island legislature’s recent decision to lower the age of adult court jurisdiction to 17 and how, just four months after the bill was passed, state officials were already starting to see signs of failure.

Contrary to the predictions of the bill’s supporters–notably Republican Governor Don Carcieri–and in line with the criticisms of juvenile justice advocates who had seen 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.

Carcieri had thought he could save some cash and close a deficit gap by transferring the 17-year-olds, typically housed at $98,000 per bed per year on the juvenile side, to adult prison, where beds cost roughly $40,000 per year. The catch, of course, which would have been immediately apparent had he bothered to consult the experts and prison staff, is that 17-year-olds are kept in protective custody when they’re admitted to the adult system, which is more expensive than juvenile facilities.

Now, thankfully, lawmakers are considering a repeal. They are planning to meet tomorrow in a special session of the House Finance Committee to discuss, among other things, a Senate proposal to reintroduce those 17-year-olds back to the juvenile system. If they won’t listen to the advocates on this one, here’s hoping they’ve at least figured out the cost savings.


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