Connecticut regards 16- and 17-year-olds as juveniles in virtually all aspects but one: crime. The state is one of only three in the country that treats them as adult criminals regardless of the offense.
All other states have an age threshold of 18 for prosecuting teenagers as adults. Connecticut's law, a dismal failure, should be changed to conform with that model.
Research shows that placing 16- and 17-year-olds in adult prisons does not deter crime. On the contrary, youths incarcerated as adults are several times more likely to commit additional crimes or commit suicide than they would if sentenced to juvenile facilities.
Only about 5 percent of youths who serve prison time as adults commit the types of serious violent crimes that led legislators to pass the law lowering the age of adulthood to 16 in the first place. Most of the rest probably would be better off in one of the mental health or supportive alternative-to-incarceration programs that have proven track records of reducing recidivism rates among youths below the age of 16.
There is no reason to continue penalizing all 16- and 17-year-olds for the crimes of a few. An overwhelming majority of the arrests that went to adult criminal court were for minor, nonviolent offenses.
Youth advocates, such as the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, have been trying to raise the age for adult criminals to 18 for several years without success. During the last session of the legislature, they persuaded lawmakers to create a Juvenile Jurisdiction Planning and Implementation committee to look into ways of making the change.
This coming session, lawmakers and the governor should take the next step and raise the age of adulthood to 18 except in the infrequent cases of 16- and 17-year-olds who commit especially violent crimes. They should continue to be tried as adults, as is the case in most other states.
But those adolescents who can be rehabilitated should be rehabilitated.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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