PROVIDENCE -- The General Assembly next week will reconsider a controversial law that requires 17-year-olds to be tried as adults in criminal matters, a change of heart that follows three months of intense lobbying by a host of groups that blasted the law as bad public policy and not cost effective.
The leadership in both chambers have agreed in principle to "basically repeal" the law during next week's one-day special session, according to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steven Alves, D-West Warwick.
"It was a terrible proposal. There's no other way to describe it," he said of the provision, which was introduced as a cost-cutting measure in the state budget by the governor and approved by the General Assembly in June.
Since the law took effect July 1, more than thirty-six 17-year-olds have spent at least one night in the state prison, accused of crimes that previously might have resulted in a locked stay at the Training School. Those youths have adult criminal records now instead of a juvenile record that would have been sealed by the Family Court.
The governor's office initially said that trying 17-year-olds as adults would save $3.6 million because the average cost of housing inmates at the state prison is cheaper than the Training School. But in the days immediately after the measure became law, the head of the state prison system cast doubt on those savings.
Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall said that 17-year-old inmates would be held at the high-security unit -- known as "Super Max" -- for their protection at an average cost of more than $100,000 a year. Wall told a Senate panel investigating the issue last month that the governor's office did not consult him before the proposal was introduced. Mimi Budnick Organizer, DARE Direct Action for Rights and Equality 340 Lockwood Street Providence, RI 02907 401-351-6960