Time to Change Law that Harms NH Kids
In 1995, I was serving my 4th term in the Legislature when New Hampshire lowered the age of juvenile jurisdiction so that 17-year-olds, no matter how minor the charges against them, would be prosecuted as adults. Those of us who favored the change, including then-Governor Steve Merrill, the Attorney General, state corrections officials and local law enforcement, were motivated by a desire to make our communities safer.
I am now serving my 13th term as a state legislator, and while it sometimes seems that things don’t change that much at the statehouse, or in society as a whole, some things do. While I am still motivated by a desire to keep communities safe, I have realized that it is time to return 17-year-olds to the juvenile justice system and treat kids as kids. In 1995, treating 17-year-olds as adults seemed like sound policy, but two decades of new information, research and experience has changed my view on this issue. We should change the law and raise the age to 18 this year.
One reason is that the states around us have raised the age, so arguments we heard in the 1990’s that drug dealers from Massachusetts and other states would take advantage of our laws and send juveniles here to commit crimes are not valid. We are one of only ten states in the nation that still prosecute children under 18 in the adult system.
Another compelling reason is that we know a lot more about brain development than we did twenty years ago. Anyone who has raised teenagers knows that adolescents often have a limited capacity to think through the consequences of their actions. Teenagers are risk-takers and are highly susceptible to peer pressure. Neuroscience tells us that the human brain continues to develop into the mid-twenties, and the last area to reach maturity is the frontal cortex - the seat of judgment. So law breaking as an adolescent does not necessarily lead to a life of crime. Most kids will reform, under the right circumstances.