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17-year-olds no longer adults in criminal system

CONCORD — Without debate, the Senate approved a bill to increase from 17 to 18 the age a person is considered an adult in the criminal justice system.

Rep. David Bickford, R-New Durham, said 17-year-olds would be better served at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester rather than in prison.

Sen. Bob Odell, R-New London, said House Bill 1624 has the potential to eliminate significant costs counties would have to incur to separate 17-year-olds from other prisoners, as required by federal law.

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

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

At a public hearing 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 should not be changed.

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

The bill has to go back to the House because of changes the Senate made in the bill to remove a section granting juveniles automatic release after six months.

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