BATON ROUGE – Today, Governor John Bel Edwards has signed SB 324, the Raise the Age Act, into law. The bill was authored by Louisiana Senator JP Morrell. The law ensures that juvenile offenders, including 17-year-olds, are placed in an age-appropriate setting, while still allowing prosecutors to charge them as adults when deemed necessary. This is a key part of the governor’s 2016 Regular Legislative Session package and is supported by 66 percent of Louisianans. Louisiana joins 41 other states in charging 17-year-olds as juveniles.
“By signing this bill into law, we’re ensuring that every child has the opportunity for success,” said Gov. Edwards. “This is a significant step forward for Louisiana as we work to reform our criminal justice system. We are no longer giving up on our young people; rather, we are giving them a chance to get their lives back on track. Appropriately, under this bill district attorneys retain the authority to decide, case by case, whether to prosecute an individual as an adult.”
Rather than automatically sending 17-year-olds to the adult criminal system, as has been the practice for decades regardless of their offense, the law will now send them to the juvenile justice system where they will have a greater opportunity for rehabilitation. Prior to this legislation, it had been 108 years since Louisiana reviewed the age at which children could be criminally prosecuted as adults.
“We began the rehabilitation of our juvenile justice system many years ago, and this legislation is a continuation of that effort,” said Sen. Morrell. “Louisiana law on this issue has been severely outdated. It has cost taxpayers more and made the crime situation worse. This bill will help improve our criminal justice system and align our policies with those of the majority of other states.”
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.