The good thing about bad laws . . .

. . . is that they can be undone, as will apparently be the case today when the General Assembly returns for a veto override session. We refer specifically to the ill-advised move to try 17-year-olds as adults in Rhode Island.

The New York Times covers the issue today, with a story headlined, "Rhode Island May Ease Law on Young Offenders."

It doesn't mention how Corrections Director A.T. Wall wasn't asked for advance input.

As of last week, 46 17-year-olds had been held at the state prison since July 1, all in maximum security, said Tracey Z. Poole, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Mr. [Jeff] Neal, the governor’s spokesman, said the policy might nonetheless still save money, though not as much as expected. The reason, unspoken by Mr. Neal but confirmed by experts, is that relatively insignificant offenses committed by 17-year-olds are bringing dismissal by judges, the effect being savings in the court and corrections systems alike.

“When there are really trivial offenses in the criminal system, they get ignored,” said Patrick Griffin, a senior research associate at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, in Pittsburgh.

Beyond the fiscal issue are those involving public-records law, privacy and even bail. Seventeen-year-olds are not legally authorized to sign a contract in Rhode Island, and as a result cannot sign a bail form or a plea agreement without a parent present.

“How do you plea a kid, or how do you post bail, when you’re not old enough to contract?” said John J. Hardiman, the state’s public defender.

The new law also now makes the records of 17-year-olds public, unlike all juvenile records in the state, which are sealed.

Attorney General Lynch believes the law unnecessary because he could previously elevate juvenile cases to the adult level if the suspect had committed prior offenses or the crime was particularly violent. He said he believed the measure was destroying the lives of young nonviolent offenders, as drug convictions make it harder to find jobs and housing and cause students to be ineligible for federal aid.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Not For Nothing Archives