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April 24. 2014 9:06PM

Bill would hike age of adults in criminal justice system to 18

CONCORD — Upping the age a person is considered an adult in the criminal justice system was endorsed by the Senate Thursday in a preliminary vote.

House Bill 1624 would raise the age of a minor from 17 to 18 years old and would make related changes to the state juvenile justice system.

The Senate Finance Committee will review the bill before a final vote by the Senate.

The change will align the state’s age of majority with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, as well as the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.

In doing so, both the state and county corrections systems will not have to make expensive changes to their facilities to separate the 17-year-olds from the other prisoners, which is required under the federal laws.

However, state health and human services officials say the change will increase their expenditures by as much as $5 million annually.

While a wide range of organizations and advocacy groups backed the change to 18 years old, law enforcement has opposed the change.

At a hearing in a House committee earlier this year, Kensington Police Chief Michael Sielicki, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, said the lower age of majority has worked well and it should not be changed.

But bill supporters, including Rep. David Bickford, R-New Durham, who has sponsored bills in the past to up the age, has said 17-year-olds would be better served at the Sununu Youth Services Center rather than in prison.

New Hampshire is one of 10 states that sets the maximum age for juvenile court jurisdiction at 16, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Hampshire changed the age of majority from 18 to 17 years old in 1995, after several high-profile murders committed by people younger than 18.

During the same time period, drug dealers used juveniles as mules because they would only spend a short time in detention and then be set free when they turned 18.

Massachusetts and most other surrounding states had lowered the age to 17. Now most of those states have returned the age of majority to 18 years old.

There have been several attempts in New Hampshire to return the age of majority to 18, but all failed — until this year.

The bill will be before the Senate again next month.

grayno@unionleader.com


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