BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill heads to the Senate floor that looks to make sure 17-years-old are not charged as adults when they commit a crime.
Under the proposed bill, the juvenile justice system would be modified to include 17-year-olds with some exceptions. District attorneys would still retain the right to try 17-year-olds as adults in the case of capital offenses, including rape and murder.
This is the first time the law has come up for discussion at the State Capitol in more than 100 years.
Gov. John Bel Edwards supports efforts to raise the age and said 17-year-olds should not automatically be charged as adults without looking at what they are accused of doing.
"Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, as this legislation proposed, makes sense," Edwards said in a a statement Tuesday. "In Louisiana, adult usually means 18. Seventeen-year-olds can't vote, serve on juries, join the military, or buy a lottery ticket. There's only one exception: Kids are automatically charged, jailed, and imprisoned as adults the day they turn 17, regardless of their offense."
The governor joined hundreds of teens on the Capitol steps last week to rally in support of the bill.
Louisiana is currently among the only nine states that excludes 17-year-olds from the juvenile justice system for even minor, nonviolent offenses.
Each year, about 6,000 17-year-olds are arrested across the state. Only about 10 percent of those cases involve violent offenses, according to Joshua Perry, the Director of the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights.
Edwards said that the way the system is currently set up, it can hurt individuals in the long run. Young people in adult facilities can face high risks of sexual assault and violence. They also may not get the help they need.
Juvenile facilities, unlike adult prisons, offer educational and counseling opportunities for offenders.