STATE HOUSE -- Juveniles caught committing crimes in Scituate may soon face local authorities instead of a Family Court judge.
Rep. Carol A. Mumford (R-Dist. 41) of Scituate and Cranston has introduced legislation to establish a Juvenile Hearing Board in Scituate. The legislation was submitted at the request of the Scituate Town Council, which voted for creation of such a board last December after learning it was receiving a $25,000 grant from the Rhode Island Justice Commission.
"Although this is new to Scituate, it is not a new concept," said Representative Mumford. Many communities have established juvenile hearing boards and some towns, such as Foster and Glocester, have formed regional boards, she said.
The boards are essentially an extension of the Family Court system and allow municipalities to deal with certain minor offenses committed by town residents under the age of 18, such as vandalism or petty theft. Individuals accused of minor offenses would still have the option of appearing before Family Court. Those willing to admit their guilt could go before the local hearing board for sentencing rather than pursue the matter in Family Court, where hearings and trials can take months. More serious crimes would still be referred to the Family Court.
"Juvenile hearing boards not only help ease the Family Court's overloaded schedule, but such boards can also reach young people before their petty crimes lead to more serious offenses," said Representative Mumford. "Early intervention within the community can often make a big difference in a child's life, helping set him or her back on the right track."
Under the legislation <a href="http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText03/HouseText03/H5016.htm
">(2003 -- H 5016)</a> the board would be composed of five Scituate residents, all electors in the town and all over the age of 18. The board would be allowed to order fines or sanctions other than incarceration. Those sanctions could include fines up to $100, community service, restitution for injuries or damages, imposition of a curfew, or denial or revocation of driving privileges.
"A juvenile hearing board in their own community is a good way to deal with youngsters who are first-time offenders, who are not major criminals," said Representative Mumford. "It is a good way of keeping some kids who may be on the brink, out of the Family Court system where they would get a record that might follow them around for many years of their life."
A planning board has already been formed in Scituate and has met once to begin organizing the operating details of such a board. Town officials are hopeful that, with quick approval of the Mumford legislation by the General Assembly, the Scituate Juvenile Hearing Board could begin hearing cases in the spring.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Corporations. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Bruce J. Long (R-Dist., 74) of Jamestown and Middletown; Rep. Joseph N. Amaral (R-Dist. 70) of Portsmouth and Tiverton; Rep. Victor G. Moffitt (R-Dist. 28) of Coventry, and Rep. Susan A. Story (R-Dist. 66) of Barrington and East Providence.