BOSTON (WWLP) - When Rick Wainaina was 21-years-old, he went to an adult jail for a minor crime. The first night there, he was beaten by his cellmate. That experience motivated him to support legislation signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick Wednesday that prevents 17-year-olds from being tried as adults.
“I was 21 and that was like terrifying to me, it was devastating,” said Wainaina of Lowell. “I wanted to support this and make sure this went through and make sure other 17-year-olds don’t go though the same thing I went through.”
The new law puts 17-year-olds under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and into the custody of the Department of Youth Services. Massachusetts Juvenile Court Chief Justice Michael Edgerton says juvenile court is better equipped to handle young offenders.
“Our probation officers do intensive services with juveniles and we also have our juvenile court clinics that address the mental health needs of juveniles,” said Juvenile Court Chief Justice Michael Edgerton.
The new law puts Massachusetts in compliance with a federal law that went into effect in August that requires 17-year-olds to be separated from adults in the prison and jail system.
“We get young people into the juvenile system where we know that they will be required to go to school, they will be required to get age-appropriate treatment and it really will also keep them safe from adult facilities where they’re very vulnerable to sexual assault and other harm,” said Citizens for Juvenile Justice Executive Director Naoka Carey.
This law does not apply to 17-year-olds charged with murder or other violent crimes, in which case the Juvenile court can impose an adult sentence.