When juvenile crime rates began to rise in the 1960s and worsened in the following decades, public consensus favored drastic measures to ensure child safety. All across America and here in New Hampshire, so-called “zero tolerance” policies were adopted by schools, neighborhoods and the justice system. The “tough on crime” strategy favored punishment rather than prevention and treatment for both adults and children. One consequence of this era was that New Hampshire, like other states, lowered the age at which young people are treated as adults in the justice system from 18 years to 17 years of age.
Over the past decade, research has shown that zero tolerance policies have lasting negative consequences on children’s lives. Kids who are charged in the adult system are more likely to re-offend, experience physical and sexual assault, and face further challenges when they are released from adult prisons. Based on this research, many states have raised the age at which youth are treated as adults in the justice system back to 18 years of age. New Hampshire tried several times, beginning in 2001, to raise the age but none of none of the bills made it through the legislature.
Building on our success with CHINS, NH Kids Count convened a juvenile justice coalition to try, once again, to raise the age. Together, the coalition introduced and succeeded in passing HB1624, legislation that not only raises the age at which kids are tried as adults to 18 but also includes measures ensuring juveniles can access appropriate counseling and rehabilitation services. A data collection provision in the bill will help assess program effectiveness.
New Hampshire youths belong in a compassionate, fair and effective juvenile justice system. Modernizing the juvenile justice system ensures a better future for New Hampshire and for our children.
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