GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

April 6, 2013

Editorial: Bill raising age on juvenile crimes is worth long look

Months after it was filed, the state Legislature’s joint Judiciary Committee is now taking up state Rep. Brad Hill’s bill that would that would raise from 17 to 18 the age at which young offenders could be prosecuted as adults.

And, as we noted earlier, it is indeed a bill that deserves a full, fair hearing.

Look, no one should be or wants to be seen as being “soft” on crime. But, as Hill and others have noted, a persuasive argument can be made that treating 17-year-olds as full-grown adult criminals leaves them vulnerable to abuse and more likely to re-offend.

Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose district includes the town of Manchester, has cited a Northeastern University study that showed youth placed in the adult system are 34 percent more likely to be re-arrested for a violent offense than those placed in the juvenile system.

“The juvenile system is designed to get at the root causes of delinquency,” Hill argues. “Risks such as gang influence, family problems and school issues often contribute to delinquent behavior.

These youth-specific issues are recognized more quickly and addressed more skillfully in the juvenile justice system.

“To be successful, kids need things the adult system simply is not designed to deliver, including age-appropriate education, such as high school or vocational training and the special education services that so many young inmates need,” Hill says. “The Department of Youth Services is focused on maintaining family and community ties, which are correlated with positive outcomes for kids leaving the justice system.”

It’s important to note that we’re not talking about major crimes here. District attorneys like Essex County’s Jonathan Blodgett would still be able to seek adult charges in serious crimes, especially those involving violence.

And youthful offenders would still answer for their transgressions; they would just do it in a more appropriate setting. Indeed, as Essex County DA’s representative Carrie Kimball Monahan has noted, authorities at least have an option now that allows them to charge first-time offenders age 17-21 as “youthful offenders,” keeping those teens and young adults who may make one stupid mistake out of the adult detention system, and giving them the chance to have their crimes erased from the public record.

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