BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (KALB) – The Senate considered Senate Bill 418 on Monday, May 9, which seeks to automatically detain 17-year-olds as adults, citing an increase in youth crime.
The proposed bill seeks to repeal the Raise the Age Act, which was passed with bipartisan support and came into force in 2020. Opponents of the bill have said 17-year-olds are children and housing them with adults, as to whether the offense was non-violent or violent, was dangerous.
Sen. Stewart Cathey (R-District 33), author of SB 418, said an increase in youth crime nationwide necessitates change.
The bill was passed by a Senate Judiciary Committee in late April, with the support of Attorney General Jeff Landry and Iberville Parish District Attorney Tony Clayton.
Landry suggested that the Raise the Age Act was hastily thought out, leading to lingering problems within the system it was meant to help. To that end, Landry said the current law creates exceptions that are more onerous for prosecutors and victims. Instead, they want there to be a rule about charging 17-year-olds as adults, not an exception.
Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell noted that the exception makes prosecutions more difficult. Although a bipartisan group of lawmakers in 2017 passed the law during Governor John Bel Edwards’ administration, Terrell suggested the measure was premature. Instead, Terrell said the law has overburdened the juvenile justice system.
“We are woefully underfunded and inadequate, not just in Rapides Parish, but across the state,” Terrell said. “[There is] underfunded and understaffed juvenile prosecution, juvenile detention, and we need to do something about it.
On the other hand, the bill has many fierce opponents, such as Rachel Gassert of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, who said the data does not support repeal.
According to statistics from Datalytics, the murder rate in Louisiana increased by 68% in cities in 2020. Those under 18 accounted for only about 4.4% of these offenders, down from the previous two years. after the Raise the Act was passed. in force.
They said lawmakers must consider ways in which the juvenile justice system can better serve its purpose, instead of repealing what it hoped to preserve.
“I think we should be focusing on more socio-economic issues as they relate to minors,” said Jermaine Harris, defense attorney for Rapides Parish. “You know, what’s going on at home, what’s going on at school, you know, after-school programs, youth sports. You know, focus on schools that offer trades and vocations to kids who aren’t going to college. I think we should put some money on these things.
On both sides, there are those who stick to the 2017 reasoning behind the Raise the Age Act, that 17-year-olds are minors in all other societal systems, and the juvenile justice system should work. according to this understanding. People on both sides, including Terrell, Harris and Gassert, said the facilities should fundamentally operate differently.
“Someone has to teach this youngster how to live, how to find a job, teach him a trade, solve his addiction problem, solve his mental health problem, solve all these things so that he can be a citizen, so that ‘It can be productive, so they don’t do it again,’ Terrell said.
“We shouldn’t excuse and place minors in adult facilities because there can be issues with juvenile facilities,” Harris said. “I don’t think that’s a valid excuse. I think we should do what we can to make sure this system works and these facilities work in the juvenile system.
Bill SB 418 was returned to the calendar after a brief debate in the Senate.
Cathey’s bill is just one bill in a larger conversation about juvenile justice reform that figures prominently in this legislative session.
For example, Turkey Creek-based Sen. Heather Cloud (R-District 28) has a bill to restructure juvenile justice facilities. SB 323 would create a three-tier system based on several factors, including the offender’s threat, which would range from low to high.
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