There are more Rhode Island “gap kids” than anyone imagined, reports the Providence Journal. They are children from the city and the suburbs, first-time offenders and those with long criminal histories. They are charged with crimes such as alcohol possession, robbery, drug dealing, shoplifting, and assault. They are teenagers whose lives were touched by a state law that was in effect for only 131 days. State legislators hoped to save money by changing the law to treat 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases. They realized their mistake – that savings were questionable at best – soon after the law took effect. In reversing it late last month, the General Assembly did not make the repeal retroactive.
The state attorney general says there are 500 “gap kids” – 17-year-olds who have made their way, or will soon, through the adult criminal justice system simply because they were arrested between July 1 and Nov. 8. Many have spent time, or will spend it, in the state prison. Others will serve lesser sentences such as probation or community service, but will have criminal records for life. The gap kids have become a case study in uninformed policymaking, says the Journal. “The governor made a woefully uninformed decision … based on information – I don't know where he got it,” said Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who joined family court judges, social advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union in opposing the law.