State policymakers get what they have coming

Help Me: I have a teenager  The Associated Press has a legitimately scathing story, “R.I. Grapples With Faulty Teen Jail Bill.”

It’s right on the money.

George is one of about 40 teenagers who have been jailed in the state prison under a new law that treats 17-year-olds as adults in the court system. Billed as a way to save money, youth advocates, judges and the attorney general sounded the alarm early that the proposal might actually be more expensive, and could hurt children.

Now, four months after the measure passed the Legislature, state officials admit their mistake: It’s unlikely to cut costs, it has created confusion in the court system and it is imprisoning teenage offenders who might have been sent home with their parents instead.

It continues:

State officials say it happened because the chain of people responsible for the proposal — who drew it up, signed off on it, forwarded it to lawmakers and voted it into law — never thoroughly researched it and ignored warnings. Now, they’re pointing fingers, and grappling with how to fix it.

“Never underestimate the incompetence of government,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, who wants 17-year-old offenders back in juvenile courts. “I think there’s a lot of blame to go around.”

Yes, the budget’s a weighty document, hundreds of pages long. But there is simply no excuse for having passed this legislation, and there were many activists who spent the last weeks of the session trying to convince the General Assembly to reconsider the proposal. Their pleas were actively ignored.

I’m proud to have voted against the budget article containing this language, and to have spoken out against it during and after the session. To not take this issue up during the likely October reconvening of the Assembly will only compound the embarrassment — and compound the tragic effects this legislation will continue to have on Rhode Island’s families and the state’s already substantial budgetary woes.

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