“When you have an overcrowded jail, you have more of an instance that these 17-year-olds are with seasoned offenders,” DeSimone said. “They learn how to become better criminals.”
But some local police officials and the police chiefs association, including board member and Derry police Chief Edward Garone, said New Hampshire is best served by leaving the law alone.
Suspects who are 17 are responsible enough in most cases to know the difference between right and wrong, police officials said.
“We found things were going pretty well before (the bill was proposed),” Garone said.
Association president Patrick Sullivan agreed. They said their organization stands firmly against the legislation. Sullivan is the interim police chief in Goffstown.
“It has worked for the state of New Hampshire for the past several years,” Sullivan said. “There are no 17-year-olds in state prison. There are only 30 in the state that are incarcerated and for very serious crimes.”
Those crimes include armed robbery and attempted murder, he said.
Garone said the state needs a strict law to prevent Massachusetts teens from crossing into New Hampshire to commit crimes because they would receive less harsher punishment through the juvenile justice system.
“We were concerned that 17-year-olds were coming across the border and they were being treated differently,” he said.
New Hampshire lowered the age from 18 to 17 in 1996 after concern that criminals in Massachusetts were sending 17-year-olds to the Granite State to sell drugs, Bickford said.
Massachusetts later dropped the age to 17 as well but raised it to 18 last fall, Bickford said. New Hampshire is among only 10 states that treat 17-year-olds as adults, he said.
Pelham police Lt. Gary Fisher agreed the current law has been a deterrent.
“In my opinion, it should remain,” he said.
Londonderry Police Department prosecutor Kevin Coyle said changing the law would be a mistake.