There may still be some red flags when it comes to state Rep. Brad Hill’s bill that would formally classify 17-year-olds as juveniles under the state’s court and detention system.
But, as we noted previously, this is a bill that deserves support and approval. And we’d like to think that any remaining public safety questions can indeed be ironed out in conference committee, where House and Senate lawmakers really need only define which serious crimes would be exempt from the measure and would still assure adult treatment when deemed necessary.
Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose House district includes the town of Manchester, has done a solid job shepherding this bill forward. And he’s drawn bipartisan support, at least on Cape Ann, where state Sen. Bruce Tarr, who had some initial reservations, and Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante have also signed on as petitioners.
Look, a shift to juvenile status for 17-year-olds guilty of generally lesser crimes might not seem like a big change — especially given that the Essex District Attorney’s office of Jonathan Blodgett already steers a number of older teens into its “youthful diversion” program that provides some of these protections for first-time offenders.
But Hill’s bill provides important protections for 17-year-old offenders whose crimes — large and mall — are all currently handled like adults’. And that’s a harsh prospect in some cases for teens who are still in high school, aren’t yet eligible to vote, and don’t meet “adult” criteria in other realms as well.
A bill treating 17-year-olds as juveniles isn’t soft on crime as long as it give authorities to press adult charges when needed — and this bill does that. It is, instead, a practical measure that deserves legislative approval.