Rhode Island Legislature returns 17-year olds to family court

Rhode Island’s legislature has repealed a law passed earlier this session that moved 17-year olds into the adult criminal justice system. The law was a misguided attempt to cut costs as the state faced a budget shortfall. However, youth housed in adult facilities require extra protection, making the new law more expensive than simply leaving 17-year olds under the jurisdiction of the family court. SB 1411, sponsored by Senator Stephen Alves, essentially repeals the new law. It also controls costs by sending some offenders to alternative treatment programs instead of the state’s juvenile detention facility. SB 1411 was passed by the Senate at the end of the legislature’s regular session, but not by the House. Unfortunately, the change would not apply retroactively, so approximately 50 youth who have been tried or arrested in the months since the law took effect will remain in the adult system. There is a chance the legislature could take up that issue during next year’s session. The governor has not indicated whether he will sign the new bill. Placing children in the adult prison system increases rates of recidivism and can turn nonviolent offenders into hardened criminals. Furthermore, in Rhode Island, the affected youth would have had permanent adult records, limiting their ability to reintegrate into the community. For more information, see CPA’s Juvenile Transfer Reform policy brief and model legislation. [NY TimesProvidence Journal]