On February 1st the Louisiana legislature released a report supporting the need for, and impact of, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction. This report was commissioned by the legislature through Resolution No. 73 in 2015 and completed by The Institute for Public Health and Justice at the Louisiana State University’s Health Science Center. The ultimate recommendation of this comprehensive report is that Louisiana should raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17 year old offenders. Louisiana remains one of nine states that fails to recognize that youth under 17 year olds should not be prosecuted automatically in the adult criminal justice system.
The three big findings that the report made are:
1) 17 year olds are developmentally different than adults and should be treated as such;
2) the Louisiana juvenile justice system has the capacity to manage and rehabilitate added 17 year old youth;
3) other state have found that raise the age impact has had substantially less of an impact on their systems than was predicted and Louisiana should be the same and may even have substantial fiscal savings
It further recommends that a five year comprehensive plan be developed to address a variety of issues specific to youth such as transition, community based interventions, services while in detention, and other ways to ensure that youth are rehabilitated and do not recidivate.
The report notes that the state of Louisiana has not reviewed the age of juvenile jurisdiction in more than 100 years. Due to the growth of the law, social science, and brain science it is important for Louisiana to raise the age to ensure that its juvenile justice system is not stuck in the past. “Louisiana’s successful juvenile justice reforms, and an overall decline in juvenile crime reflective of national trends, have opened up system capacity for raising the age that may not have previously existed.”
The report highlights current brain science on adolescents and specifically how 17 year olds are unable to consistently reason and make responsible decisions. Due to this increased awareness of how adolescent brains work, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have recognized that treating 17 year olds the same as adults is not appropriate. The data shows that 17 year olds are capable of change when rehabilitated and generally stop reoffending. Most delinquent behavior does not follow the youth into adulthood.
The effects of the adult system on youths are troubling because rates of juvenile recidivism rise when placed in adult facilities. Additionally, youth are subject to a variety of harms both physical and psychological when they are subject to adult courts and facilities. To address the issue of placing 17 year olds in adult facilities the report examined the capacity of existing juvenile facilities. The report found that on any given day only facilities are only 56% filled, “…it can be estimated that 258 beds could be available on any given day in Louisiana’s juvenile detention facilities.” The addition of 17 year olds would not cause the current facilities to be overburdened.
The Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) has been a vital advocate for Raise the Age Reform and helping shepherd a bill into law. Raise the Age Louisiana Act, SB 324 will ensure that 17 year olds are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts. LCCR has reported that, “polling by LSU shows that 66% of Louisianans – a majority of both parties – believe that 17-year-olds should be included in the juvenile justice system.” On March 15, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has announced that he supports SB 324 and raising the age. Widespread support from Louisianans will ensure that legislators know that their constituencies want what is best both for communities and for adolescents, to raise the age.
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Full Text of SB 324