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Bill makes 17-year-olds juveniles in NH criminal system

CONCORD - Seventeen-year-olds will no longer be tried as adults if Gov. Maggie Hassan agrees with lawmakers.

The House agreed to Senate changes made in House Bill 1624 Wednesday, sending the bill to Hassan.The bill raises the age of a minor from 17 to 18 and makes related changes to the state juvenile justice system.

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 17-year-olds from the other prisoners, which is required under federal law.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 age 18, law enforcement has opposed it.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.

Trace Adkins
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