‘Raise the Age’ law may get second look

By Tina Montgomery

With an increasing number of juvenile offenders arrested, and no place to house them, is the solution a repeal of the Raise the Age law? Some legislators in Louisiana think so.

The Raise the Age law, which officially went into full effect July 1, 2020, is part of a criminal justice reform package that ended the practice of anyone under the age of 18 from being prosecuted as an adult.

Many state lawmakers believe that part of the reform was a mistake and that teenagers are responsible for the spike in violent crime Louisiana is experiencing. In other words, the legislation handcuffs prosecutors trying to get a handle on crime.

Louisiana Senator Robert Mills says it’s one of the most pressing issues facing our justice systems. In an email statement, Mills said “Some good people with good intentions banded together a few years ago and passed a law to keep 17 year old justice offenders in the juvenile system to keep them out of Louisiana’s horrible adult prison system. I suspect those well intended persons had no idea how bad today’s 17 year olds would turn out to be.”

The spike in violent crime, particularly involving persons under the age of 18, is happening everywhere according to statements made to the media by several Louisiana District Attorneys. Louisiana juvenile facilities are under pressure to provide space for the minors awaiting adjudication. As previously reported in the Webster Parish Journal “there’s no room in the inn.” Federal law requires adults to be held separately from youth, something not all Louisiana facilities are able to accommodate.

“They [17 year olds] are not all just big kids in trouble, too many of them are full blown criminals with guns and bad intentions and cannot be contained in our existing juvenile facilities due to the increased volume and severity of their behavior” Mills further stated.

According to Mills, “There is substantial and warranted conversations about the future of Raise the Age.” A bill was introduced at a legislative hearing in April of this year that would have undone Raise the Age and returned 17 year olds accused of crimes to the adult legal system. The bill SB418 passed a Senate vote in June but died in the chamber before reaching the House. According to LegiScan, a bill tracking page for Louisiana legislation, Senator Mills voted in favor of the bill. The Senate approved future consideration of the bill.

The present failure to repeal certain legislation for the Juvenile Justice System furthers the frustrations felt by lawmakers and law enforcement, as well as Louisiana residents regarding the increasing criminal activity committed by juveniles. Is the answer to build more prisons to incarcerate more young people? Or, should there be more funding provided for programs, treatments, and counselors targeted for young offenders?  These questions are not unique to Louisiana and may be addressed to prevent fewer juveniles from entering the Juvenile Justice System.

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