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Ri Family Life Center Real Impact Results of Charging 17 Year Olds as Adults 2007

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Real Impacts
The actual results of Rhode Island s new
policy that charges 17-year-olds as adults



841 Broad Street
Providence, Rhode Island





October, 2007
Article 22 of the 2007-2008 Rhode Island State Budget,
passed last June, requires 17-year-olds to be tried and sentenced as
adults for criminal offenses.1 According to House Speaker William
Murphy (D-26), the measure was meant to save money. “When the
proposal came over from the governor in his budget, it was a cost
saving issue, and it was just over three and a half million dollars
that we were supposedly going to save.”2 However, legislators are
nowreconsidering the provision. The Senate has passed a
compromise bill, S1141, which would have undone Article 22 and
instituted a diversion program for juveniles to try to cost costs.
The cost saving predictions of Article 22 have also nowbeen
demonstrated to be incomplete. Again, according to Murphy,
legislators discovered that it costs “$39,000 a year to house the
average inmate,” while, “it’s costing almost $100,000 to house [the
17-year-olds in High Security].”
Since the Budget passed, the RI Department of
Corrections has taken into custody 36 17-year-olds who would
previously have entered DCYF custody, with more jailed every
week.3 An examination of these young people reveals that they are
receiving unduly harsh treatment for their offenses. Juveniles are
imprisoned in the High Security prison, causing them and their
families severe trauma. Also, although it was not an explicit
intention of the bill, one of the most important outcomes is that
these juveniles will nowhave adult records, seriously limiting them
as they become adults.
Furthermore, although the newlawimpacts all of Rhode
Island, urban communities and communities of color, already over
represented in the criminal justice system, are disproportionately
impacted by Article 22. As a result, the change will have ripple
effects on young people and their communities with negative long
term consequences for the state. Meanwhile, Article 22 has
generated a number of procedural inconsistencies and is in legal
disagreement with a number of previous Rhode Island laws.
Finally, an array of studies has shown that transferring juveniles to
adult courts exacerbates youth crime and increases long-term
A Look at the 17-Year-Olds
Because full arrest records are not available, the 36 17-yearold offenders admitted to DOC custody since June represent only
those who have been arrested and committed to the Adult

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Rhode Island Family Life Center

Correctional Institution. There are many more juveniles who have been arrested and
charged under the newlaw, but were never sent to the ACI.
Anecdotally, there is a lot of variation among the 36; some had never been in
trouble with the lawbefore, and some had spent time at the Training School.4 However,
regardless of whether they receive prison time, they all nowhave an adult record following
Figure one illustrates that the
majority of 17-year-olds that have spent time
in DOC custody were charged with propertyrelated felonies or for a misdemeanor. Drug
crimes were less common and violent
Drug 3%
felonies represented only 26.5% of all crimes.
All the juvenile criminal background of these
Weapons 6%
individuals is sealed and thus unavailable, but
evidence demonstrates that the vast majority
Property 6%
of the offenders nowbeing punished as
adults have committed nonviolent crimes and
Violent 6%
misdemeanors. This is the case of Scott, a
17-year old and first-time offender who was
Fig. 1
sent to High Security prison for being a look6%
out during the theft of copper pipes from an
Fig. 1
empty house (see box for more details).
Historically, in Rhode Island, serious
juvenile offenders can be waived into adult court if their crime warrants it. In the past 10 years, 146 cases
have been waived into adult court, and only 5 cases that have been filed have been waived or dismissed.6
If Article 22 is reversed, this will not affect the ability of the state to waive certain offenders into adult
court if their crime merits it.
The net result, so far, of Article 22, has been predominantly to punish non-violent and
misdemeanor offenders. It has also been to punish juveniles living in urban centers, most with belowan
11th grade education, and almost all living in broken or separated families. The juveniles have come from
all over Rhode Island, from Bristol County to Newport to Warwick. However, roughly 50% come from
Providence alone7. Of the 36 individuals, only 4 live with both parents.8 23 out of the 36 live with only
one parent, and in one third of those families
the father’s residence is unknown. Nine of the
Race of 17-Year-Old Offenders vs. Race of DOC
36 are living with a non-parental care-taker,
Sentenced Population and State Population
including girlfriend’s family, uncle,
17-Year-Olds who have been
grandmother, friend, and brother.
in DOC Custody
17-Year-Old Offenders by
Typeby Charge Type

Percent of Population


DOC Sentenced Population

17-Year-Old Offenders by Race


RI Population


Other 11%
Black 42%

White 19%


Hispanic 28%


Fig. 2b






Fig. 2a



Figures 2a-2b. – Blacks and Hispanics, already over
represented in the DOC population appear even more
disproportionately among the 17-year-olds that have
been charged under Article 22 so far.

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Additionally, of the 36, 22 (60%) have belowan 11th grade education.9 The effect of Article 22 has fallen
largely on juveniles with less education and less parental support.
While Article 22 has affected youth from all backgrounds in Rhode Island, the relative
incarceration rates of the races illustrate a disproportionate tendency to imprison people of color. 29 of
the 36 kids are kids of color (81%) and based on this data 17-year-olds of color are 28 times more likely to
be incarcerated as adults than white 17-year-olds10. Such inequity is a known feature of Rhode Island’s
prison system. Alarmingly, however, the bias already present is markedly exaggerated among 17-year-old
offenders (figure 2a). In fact, the racial bias amongst 17-year-olds is four times that of the overall prison
population.11 In other words, young people of color are even more disproportionately represented in the
criminal justice system than people of color in general, who are already over represented. This may
indicate disproportionate policing of youth of color and unfair treatment at other stages of the criminal
justice system, and also reflects higher rates of poverty, fewer employment opportunities, and lowrates of
high school graduation amongst communities of color in Rhode Island.12
Short-Term Financial Cost15
The cost of incarcerating a juvenile
Scott spent two-and-a-half days in the High SecurityPrison
offender in the Adult Correction Institution is
an adult felonycharge of breakingand enteringthat will
$100,012 per year, making it more costly than
likelybe on his record for at least ten years. This is Scott’s first
the average cost of the Training School,
encounter with the law, and he was arrested for keepinglookout
$98,000.16 While the 2008 budget assumed a
while two adult men took copper pipes from an abandoned building.
three million dollars savings as a result of
Scott had been workingon cars all summer through a summer
Article 22, this savings will not materialize as a
result of increased costs to the ACI, which were internship, and was lookingfor a newjob. He took part in the crime
because he wanted moneynowthat he could not find a job. He stated
not sufficiently accounted for. Because the
he just wanted a good legal job so he could staybusyand get ahead.
ACI is already at capacity, it is no easier for the
"It feels good when you have that check. I'm no criminal, I'mno
ACI to absorb these additional inmates than it
gangster; I see people out on the street and I knowI don't want to be
is for the Training School. According to A.T.
like that. I was proud I was the onlykid I knewthat had not been
Wall, the Department of Corrections Director,
in the trainingschool, I didn't let the streets suck me in."
“At this point we’re so close to capacity that we
Scott described beingin the same room everydaywith
have no vacant cellblocks.”17
murders and child molesters in High Security, "It's scaryin there, if
The final short-term costs to the state
someone gets angryat you, theyare probablygoingto do somethingto
with respect to Article 22 will depend on the
you. You gotta watch your back." Had Scott’s mother not been able
length of sentences given to 17 year olds, which
cannot be estimated at this point. However, the to scramble to make bail, Scott would have spent a month in High
Security. Scott's biggest concern was beingable to finish his last year
evidence is clear that the adult system is not
of High School, get a job, and go to technical college, where he wants
cost effective in the short term in regard to
to learn to be an electrician. "I want to have a good life, go to school,
incarceration. While actual prison time is
variable, there is no reason that juveniles should go to work. I'm worried about myfuture now, whether I can get a job
and get into school."
be given more time to serve in the juvenile
system as opposed to the adult system. If a
juvenile does not require a sentence which includes significant incarceration, they could just as well be
dealt with in the juvenile probation system. This would avoid the collateral consequences of the adult
system, which make the adult system considerably less effective for juveniles, as discussed in the next two
In addition to higher incarceration costs, there are several other costly repercussions of Article 22.
One is that it is more likely that juveniles that have been arrested will be held in custody. Previously,
juveniles arrested by the police could only be held with specific judge approval while awaiting a court

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appearance. Now, juveniles can be held for one or several nights without oversight before bail is set. This
is the case with Vincent, who was held for three days at the High Security facility before being given bail,
despite that fact that he was a nonviolent, first-time offender (see box).
Elements of probation have also become more costly. Previously, if a juvenile was waived into
adult court they were taken out of Family Court jurisdiction entirely. Currently, if a juvenile with a
Department of Children Youth & Families probation officer is sentenced to adult probation, they will
continue with two probation officers. The state incurs twice the cost of probationary oversight.
Collateral Consequences of Article 22
While the final affect of the lawchange is that 17 year old offenders can end up in adult prison
instead of the Training School, the collateral affects are just as important and just as devastating to
juveniles and their families.
For many juveniles who are tried in the adult system, the most important consequence of their
experience will be a permanent adult record. This is not an intended effect of the initial lawchange, but
for many it is the most real. As the
mother of one 17 year old boy who had
been tried as an adult stated, “No one
Vincent had never spent time in the TrainingSchool, and
wants their kids to have an adult record
never had problems with the police or the lawuntil July, when the
following them for the rest of their life.”
State Police stopped him and a cousin because she did not have a
front license plate. He had possession of her drugs, which police found Adult records will followjuveniles for a
long and crucial time in their life, when
when theysearched the car.
they are trying to finish their education
He was arrested and then spent three days at the ACI, in
and start careers. In Rhode Island, felony
the high securityfacility. Vincent said, “Beingin there wasn’t a good
convictions cannot be expunged for ten
experience for a 17-year-old who’s just startingto live life. I know
years at the earliest, following juveniles
that beingin jail doesn’t mean you should be treated well, but there
until at least their 27th birthday.
should be a little more consideration for minors.” Duringhis stayat
Having a criminal record can keep
the ACI, he was too frightened to leave his cell to bathe or eat,
individuals from receiving loans for higher
provokingverbal abuse from the guards.
education, prevents them from entering
Several weeks after beingarraigned, Vincent was informed
many trades in Rhode Island, and is a
he owed the court $788 in court fines and fees or he would be sent
back to prison. He mayhave to take time out of his GED program major obstacle to finding any job. In
addition, some 17 year olds that are tried
to tryand earn the money.
as adults will no longer even be able to live
with their families. In Providence, people with felony records are barred from living in public housing or
Section 8 housing for ten years after a felony conviction.18 Kids living in public housing will have to either
find newhomes or their whole families will be forced to move.
Procedural Complications and Legal
There is considerable established
legal precedent for treating juveniles
differently than adults in Rhode Island law.
Juveniles have previously been found to
require different protections in terms of
interrogation and confession, ability to enter
into legal contracts, and access to state care.

Sean spent 60 days in High Securityprison. The first
week he was there he was taken to the hospital where he was stripped
naked and left in a room for talkingabout suicide. His mother
stated, “This has been the hardest 60 days of mylife. These children
are not equipped with the social skills to deal with the elements they
are exposed to at the ACI. Myson eats his meals with child
predators and rapists, is it anywonder he wants to die?” Sean’s
incarceration at the ACI has cost the state significantlymore than if
he had spent the same about of time in the TrainingSchool.19

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Rhode Island lawhas strongly upheld this difference in competency. Juveniles are required by law
to have extra access to legal council, to insure that they properly understand the circumstances of their
trial.20 Jennifer Fitzgerald, attorney for the Rhode Island Office of the Public Defender, stated, “There is a
serious question of whether a substantial portion of these individuals are even competent to stand trial in
adult court.” Rhode Island lawalso requires that confessions of juveniles be evaluated more critically.21
These extra protections, previously deemed critical in the Family Court system, are not part of adult court
protocol. This is apparent in the story about Leslie, who was allowed to make an uncounseled plea (see
A significant and unanticipated consequence of Article 22 is that extenuating factors can now
determine whether an individual is tried as a juvenile or adult. The determining fact is the date that the
charge is filed, which is decided by
the arresting police office and the
Daniel was incarcerated for a charge of deliveryof cocaine for
Attorney General’s office. In cases
a total of 34 days in High Security. It was his first ever arrest. He
where the crime was committed
currentlylives with the familyof his girlfriend, previouslyhe lived with
before the individual turned 17, the
his elderlyfather. His father has little to no income, and the family’s
individual may still be tried as an
house lacked electricityand hot water. While in the ACI, he spent 23
adult. If the case is not filed until
hours in solitaryconfinement because of accusations of misconduct and
the individual’s 17 birthday, the
defendant will be automatically dealt at one point he claims he was not allowed to shower for a period of five
days. When he appeared in court, he was initiallybrought out in
with in adult court. This puts
extraordinary discretion in the hands shackles, although the judge insisted that the shackles be removed.
Sean’s incarceration at the ACI has cost the state significantlymore
of officers and prosecuting
than if he had spent the same about of time in the TrainingSchool.22
attorneys and can make the
determination arbitrary. If evidence
for the case takes time to materialize, postponing the date that the case is filed, the case may
unintentionally be forced into adult court.
Lastly, Rhode Island Statute § 14-1-28 directly contradicts Article 22, stating, “If, during the
pendency of a criminal … it shall be ascertained that the person was under the age of eighteen (18) years at
the time of committing the alleged offense, it shall be the duty of the court to immediately transfer the
case…to the family court.” 22
The Adult Criminal Justice System Fails at Dealing with Juveniles
Shifting youths into the adult criminal justice system deprives them of the rehabilitative approach
that has proven to be successful with
juvenile offenders. Attorney General
After Leslie’s mother insisted on removingher from school
Patrick Lynch agrees. He told The
over Leslie’s protest, an argument ensued and Leslie threwa rock at
Phoenix, “It will ultimately prove more
her mother’s car. Although no damage was done, her mother called the costly, literally from an economic,
police and Leslie was arrested and charged as an adult with Domestic
budgetary perspective. But I would
Malicious Damage. When brought into court, Leslie gave an
argue even further that the untold
uncounseled ‘No Contest’ plea. A ‘No Contact Order’ was also
impact – and perhaps, un-measurable
issued against Leslie. The judge accepted the plea. The storywould
from a budgetary perspective – on the
have ended there, had not the Office of the Public Defender and
quality of life of Rhode Islanders is
DCYF eventuallybeen able to intervene, vacatingthe plea as well as
going to cost us dearly as well.” 23
the no contact order. Because of Leslie’s lack of parental care and her
Numerous studies in the last
clear inabilityto provide for herself, Leslie has since been taken in
several decades have supported these
DCYF care.
statements and proven that putting

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juveniles in the adult criminal justice system costs more in the short term and long term, causes more
crime by increasing recidivism rates, and endangers the juveniles. Several large-scale government and
academic studies have compared similar youth tried in the juvenile versus the adult system and proven that
the adult system increases crime rates in comparison to the juvenile system. 24 The Federal Office of
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that children in adult prisons are five times more
likely than youths in juvenile facilities to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff or
administrators, 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon, and eight times more likely to commit
suicide.25 In addition, one study demonstrated that juveniles in adult courts are given sentences 83 percent
more severe than those in similar cases involving adults.26
Part of the reason that the adult system is faulty for juveniles, is that juveniles think and behave
fundamentally differently from adults. Juveniles are less able to make correct decisions under stress, and
neurological evidence has proven that their brains are still maturing.27 This evidence was part of the 2005
decision by the US Supreme Court which ruled that it is unconstitutional to sentence 17 year olds to
death.28 According to this ruling, juveniles must be legally viewed to have different moral culpability for
their actions.
Article 22 has been shown to be more costly for the state in both the short-term and the longterm. This report recommends that the legislature and the governor undo its affects as soon as possible by
returning 17 year olds to the juvenile system unless they are waived into the adult system. In addition, the
state should retroactively undo the adult records of any juvenile tried under the newlaw. Because Article
22 will cost the state money in both the short and long-term, undoing Article 22 will be cost-effective
within the 2008 budget. Just as importantly, it will adopt a more fair, safe, and effective policy of juvenile
An Act Making Appropriations for the Support of the State for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2008, H5300. (Rhode Island,
2007) Article 22. Accessed at:
2 10 News Conference. Jim Taricani (Host), Bill Rappleye (Co-host). NBC. WJAR, Providence. Sept. 30, 2007. Accessed at:
3 Source: RI DOC, analysis by the Rhode Island Family Life Center. As of Oct. 8, 2007, 36 young people entered DOC custody
as 17-year-olds who, before the passage of H5300, have entered DCYF. Throughout this report, “17-year-old offenders” refers
to this population only. Two other 17-year-olds have entered DOC since June, but they are charged with offenses for which
they would have been tried as adults regardless of Article 22.
4 The Family Life Center conducted interviews with young people impacted by Article 22.
5 Source: RI DOC, analysis by the Rhode Island Family Life Center. As of 0ct 8, complete offense information was not available
for 2 offenders. Family Life Center defines property crime to includes Burglary and Breaking and Entering. Violent crime
includes Robbery, Simple Assault and Assault with a dangerous weapon.
6 Source: Rhode Island Kids Count, Kids Count Factbook, 1997-2006.
7 Source: Family Life Center analysis
8 Source: RI DOC, Family Life Center analysis. Family situation is estimated based on self-reported addresses of parents. If a
parent’s address is listed as unknown, it is assumed the residence is unknown. If there is no listing, no assumption is made
about their residency. It is assumed the juveniles live at the address they provide as address for notification.
9 Source: RI DOC, Family Life Center Analysis
10 Source: RI DOC, Family Life Center Analysis. The rate data is based on the 2000 US census demographic data on Rhode
Island. It is assumed that the racial demographics for the population of 17-year olds is equivalent to the overall Rhode Island
11 Source: 2000 US Census, Rhode Island demographic data, and RI DOC demographic data, FY-2006 Population Report.
12 Source: The Family Life Center report, “Employment and Reentry-Issue Brief”(2004) describes the overlap between job
opportunities, unemployment, and incarceration in Rhode Island. The four neighborhood in Providence with the highest rates

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Page 7

of incarceration have unemployment rates that are double and triple that average Providence rate. Available at Statistics on education and high school dropout rates by race are
from The Cradle to Prison Pipeline(2007) by the Children’s Defense Fund. Available at
13 Source: US Census and RI DOC, analysis by the Rhode Island Family Life Center.
14 Source: RI DOC, analysis by the Rhode Island Family Life Center. No self-identified Asian-Americans or American Indian
17-Year-Olds have entered DOC custody.
15 Names and some identifying information has been changed.
16 The estimate for the ACI is based on the Department of Correction’s FY-2006 Population Report. The estimate for the
Training School has been reported numerous times in the Providence Journal, most recently on September 20,2007 in the article
“Critics of juvenile crime lawfill hearing.”
17 Source: “Trying 17-year-olds as adults might not cut costs,” Providence Journal, July 8, 2007.
18 “We are here to stay-The Consequences of Housing Discrimination Against People with Criminal Records”(2005). The
Rhode Island Family Life Center.
19 This estimate is based on an average cost of $100,012 for incarceration at the ACI and $98,000 for the Training School,
averaged over 60 days. While these are averages, and not marginal costs per offender, because the overall costs are greater for
the ACI, the full marginal costs will also be greater.
20 Source: In re John D. ,479 A.2d 1173, R.I.,1984. “Allowing uncounseled juveniles to admit to acts of delinquency which
would constitute felony if committed by an adult should be done only under most extraordinary circumstances. “
21 Source: In re John D., 822 A.2d 172, R.I.,2003.
22 This estimate is based on an average cost of $100,012 for incarceration at the ACI and $98,000 for the Training School,
averaged over 60 days. While these are averages, and not marginal costs per offender, because the overall costs are greater for
the ACI, the full marginal costs will also be greater.
23 Source: “Screwing the Youth.” Providence Phoenix, August 20, 2007.
24 Sources: Bishop, D., Frazier, C., Lanza-Kaduce, L., and White, H. 1996. The transfer of juveniles to criminal court: Does it
make a difference? Crime & Delinquency42:171-191. Available from National Council on Crime and Delinquency at 415-8966223. Website address: ; Fagan, J. 1995. Separating the men from the boys: The comparative
advantage of juvenile versus criminal court sanctions on recidivism among adolescent felony offenders." In A Sourcebook: Serious,
Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, edited by J. Howell, B. Krisberg, J.D. Hawkins, and J. Wilson. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Publications, Inc. Available from National Criminal Justice Reference Service at 800-851-3420. Website address:; Mason, C. and Chang, S. Re-arrest Rates AmongYouth Sentenced in Adult Court: An Evaluation of the Juvenile
SentencingAdvocacyProject. 2001. Juvenile Sentencing Advocacy Project, Miami-Dade County Public Defender's Office. Available
online: 2001 Impact Evaluation.pdf; Winner, L., Lanza-Kaduce, L., Bishop, D., and Frazier,
C. 1997. The transfer of juveniles to criminal court: Reexamining recidivism over the long term. Crime and Delinquency43(4): 548563. Available from National Council on Crime and Delinquency at 415-896-6223.; Walter S Johnson Foundation. Less Hype,
More Help: ReducingJuvenile Crime, What Works—and What Doesn’t.
25 In Connecticut specifically, suicides were reported to be 7 times more likely. Source: The Corrections Yearbook: Juvenile
Corrections, 1995, p. 27; The Corrections Yearbook: Adult Corrections, 1995, p. 26. National data on suicides from Flaherty G.
“An assessment of the national incidence of juvenile suicide in adult jails, lockups, and juvenile detention centers.” The
University Of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1980; Data on sexual assault, rape, and assault are from Fagan, Jeffrey, Martin Forst
and T. Scott Vivona. "Youth In Prisons and Training Schools: Perceptions and Consequences of the Treatment-Custody
Dichotomy." Juvenile and Family Court, No. 2, 1989., p. 10.
26 Source: Center for Policy Alternatives, 2005. Juvenile Transfer Reform.
27 Source: Baird, A.A. Moral reasoning in adolescence: The integration of emotion and cognition, Moral PsychologySinnottArmstrong, W. (ed) forthcoming; Kagan, J., Baird, A.A. Brain and behavioral development during childhood and adolescence, The
NewCognitive Neurosciences III Gazzaniga, M.S. (ed) MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, November, 2004.
28 Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)