BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved the Raise the Age Act which would effectively submit 17-year-olds who commit delinquent acts to the authority of the juvenile criminal justice system, rather than automatically trying them as adults, or keeping them in adult prisons for detention prior to trial.
Courts would retain discretion to send juveniles to an adult prison in more violent cases. The change would be implemented over the next four years. Senate Bill 324 by Senator J. P. Morrell is a key part of Governor John Bel Edwards’ agenda for the 2016 Regular Legislative Session.
“There is no doubt that members of this committee took a bold step toward meaningful criminal justice reform, and I sincerely thank them for their decision,” said Gov. Edwards. “Louisiana is one of only nine states where 17-year-old offenders are recognized as adults, no matter how minor their offenses. Not only are we are out of step with the rest of the country, but this is not the right way to treat our children and it is costing our state too much money. However, it is important to note that under this bill, district attorneys maintain their authority to prosecute as adults any juveniles who commit violent crimes.”
“This is a common sense bill that will save the state significant dollars, but more importantly, improve the lives of young offenders who routinely must fight for their survival among older and more seasoned criminals when they are placed within the adult prison population,” said Sen. Morrell. “It has been documented that the recidivism rate among young offenders who leave the adult prison system is higher than those placed within the juvenile system. We must stop this cycle, and this legislation offers us a compassionate and very real way to do just that.”
The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) is among the leading supporters of this legislation. LCCR Executive Director Joshua Perry testified before the Senate committee today. “The Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition is excited to be one step closer to safer neighborhoods, healthier kids, and a more cost-effective justice system,” said Perry, after the committee’s approval.
A study commissioned in 2015 by the Louisiana Legislature and conducted by the Institute for Public Health and Justice (IPHI) and the Louisiana State University’s Health Science Center (LSUHSC) determined the following:
- There is a growing consensus, based on a large body of scientific evidence, that 17-year-olds are developmentally different than adults and should be treated as such. They have a far greater potential for rehabilitation and are particularly influenced – for good or ill – by the environments in which they are placed.
- The last several years of reform in the Louisiana juvenile justice system have created a capacity to accept, manage, and rehabilitate these youth in a manner that will predictably generate better outcomes than the adult system.
- In the states that have recently gone before Louisiana in raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, and those states have found that the negative fiscal impacts on their systems was substantially less than first predicted. In fact, those states have reported substantial fiscal savings.