Criminal Justice

Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction Bill Passes the Louisiana Legislature, Governor to Sign

The Louisiana legislature passed LA S.B. 324 on June 6 and has sent the measure to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a former ALEC member legislator in the Louisiana Senate, who supports the bill.  Colloquially known as the “Raise the Age” bill that will change the minimum age to charge someone as an adult from 17 to 18, it requires that 17-year-olds be treated presumptively as juveniles rather than adults.  Once signed into law, S.B. 324 provides that 17-year-old offenders will be phased into the juvenile justice system over several years, completely by 2020.

Importantly, S.B. 324 won’t affect a district attorney’s option to treat 17-year-olds charged with certain crimes as adults.  For example, if a 17-year-old committed a violent crime such as a homicide, rape or robbery, they could still be charged as an adult and sent to an adult prison upon conviction.  However, for lesser crimes such as felony theft or simple drug possession, convicted 17-year-olds would be sent to a juvenile facility rather than an adult prison, a key change that advocates say will help rehabilitate the offender.  A full list of crimes eligible for transfer to adult court is prescribed by Louisiana Children’s Code Article 305.

Advocates have argued that sending 17-year-olds to adult prison for non-violent crimes has the potential to make the offender a more serious criminal upon release.  In fact, research from the Center for Disease Control has shown youth who are prosecuted as adults are 34 percent more likely to recidivate than comparable youths who are prosecuted in the juvenile system.  The research has also shown that 16- and 17-year-olds in adult lockups are exponentially more likely to be physically and sexually abused.  Moreover, county jails will save considerable compliance costs that are associated with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) requirement of keeping 16- and 17-year-olds separated from the general population of adult offenders in adult facilities.

The ALEC model Resolution to Treat 17-Year-Olds as Juveniles has noted that states that have raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction, such as Connecticut, have seen positive results and that over  “four-fifths of all states presumptively treat 17-year-olds as juveniles.”  In addition, state juvenile justice systems typically allow for most types of offenses to be eventually sealed if the person subsequently is law-abiding.  However, an adult criminal record presents a significant obstacle to an individual’s ability to obtain employment, housing and education. In essence, while treating 17-year-olds as juveniles will not prevent all recidivism, the recidivism rates will drop due to the juvenile justice system’s goal of rehabilitation, rather than punishment, as demonstrated by nonpartisan research.

ALEC is excited that Louisiana has undertaken this juvenile justice reform measure.  According to research, S.B. 324 will result in lower recidivism rates and will not compromise public safety, as dangerous offenders who are a threat to public safety will still be transferred to adult court.

In Depth: Criminal Justice

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