Bill Changing Adult Prosecution To 18+ Up For Committee Vote

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults, and it's been a non-discussion in the state Legislature for 108 years.

         Gov. John Bel Edwards has joined some lawmakers and advocates in seeking to raise the adult threshold by one year. The Senate Judiciary B Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to advance the proposal to the full Senate for debate.

         "In almost every other instance, being an adult means you have reached the age of 18," the Democratic governor said. "Seventeen-year-olds can't vote, serve on juries, join the military or even buy a lottery ticket. There's one exception: Kids are automatically charged and jailed in prison as adults the day they turn 17, regardless of their offense."

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         The governor said all nine states that treat the teenagers as adults regardless of charge have pending legislation to raise the age. In Louisiana, it's a proposal from Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, to handle 17-year-old offenders in juvenile facilities by July 1, 2017.

         The Raise the Age Act joins two other bills in a package of legislation seeking to update the juvenile justice system through overhauled educational standards, increased attorney access and fiscal accountability. The proposal has drawn bipartisan support.

         District attorneys would maintain their discretion to prosecute juveniles as adults for serious crimes, under Morrell's bill.

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         Meg Garvey, managing director of Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, an organization that advocates for juvenile justice reform, said the change would save the state money, calling the proposal "a cost saving measure over the medium term" that "didn't come out of nowhere."

         The Institute for Public Health and Justice at LSU has estimated the change would reduce youth recidivism and save the state $20 million each year.

         Garvey said she hasn't seen any major pushback against the spirit of the bill, but "there has been some concern of cost and resources." Cost studies, she said, seem to lessen those concerns.

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         Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said during recent committee discussion on the proposal that his group had some concerns with the measure. Morrell said he was working with Adams to address the concerns, and Adams said he expected to be in support of the bill by the committee vote.

         Supporters of the proposal argue that 17-year-olds are largely charged with minor, nonviolent offenses and have immature impulse control.

         A report released by the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition, a network of nonprofit organizations seeking the policy change, found that juveniles in the adult system are at a greater risk of physical and sexual assault, often isolated for long periods of time, often deprived of education and at an increased risk of suicide.

         "Raising the age means holding young people accountable for their actions in age-appropriate settings," Edwards said.

         – by AP Reporter Megan Trimble

         For more information on Senate Bill 324 click here



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