Screwing the kids in Rhode Island

As the DCYF situation goes from bad to worse, Brian C. Jones reports on how vulnerable young people are among the first targets when times get tough in Rhode Island.

It was money, not biology, which inspired state leaders to change the age for trying adult criminals. The governor and the legislature wrestled to control a budget that is millions of dollars out of balance every year, because spending continues to outstrip tax revenue.
No one, Carcieri included, argues that the ACI and adult courts are better for 17-year-olds.
“This was one of those very difficult proposals the governor put forward as one piece of a larger effort to solve the state’s budget problem,” says Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal. “It’s not clear to me he would have put forward this proposal if the circumstances were different.”
The General Assembly brushed off an 11th-hour attempt by Rhode Island Kids Count, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others to keep 17-year-olds within the Family Court and the Training School systems. The groups are still pushing for a reversal, should the legislature reconvene before January to deal with a series of Carcieri vetoes.
Many experts say the change will hurt 17-year-olds, and cost taxpayers more money in the long run.
Donna Bishop, a professor at Northeast¬ern University’s College of Criminal Justice, says seven major studies show that juveniles generally fare worse after going through adult-oriented systems than those in systems geared for young people. Young persons in adult systems are more likely to “re-offend,” or commit new crimes, to do so more quickly, and more often, Bishop says.
One drawback faced by young offenders, she says, is how they earn adult criminal records. That means they will have a harder time finding jobs and getting married.
In adult prison, the young offenders are offered fewer rehabilitative programs, says Bishop, whiling time away in an atmosphere that is far less positive and encouraging than might be the case in a juvenile program.
These are themes echoed by other experts.

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