BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill seeking to raise the age of a legal adult in Louisiana is up for final passage.
"Louisiana's only one of 9 states where youth under the age of 18 are considered adults for purposes of criminal jurisdiction, so in Louisiana every 17-year-old is tried as an adult no matter what the offense, how minor it is," said Professor Hector Linares, LSU Law School.
SB 324, known as the Raise the Age Act, is authored by Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. The bill has already passed through the Senate and passed through the House committee Wednesday without objections.
"The reason that this bill has been proposed is because the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times in the past several years that juveniles are categorically less culpable than adults," Linares explained. "They're more immature, more susceptible to peer pressure, their character is more transitory in nature meaning that they have a great capacity for change and rehabilitation and so this has lead many to conclude that holding juveniles, minors, under the age of 18 responsible in the same way as adults who have fully developed is not very wise policy. "
However, there are some concerns.
"I do not oppose the raising of the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 as long as we are prepared and willing to invest more in the services that are needed to address the often times serious issues they face," said District Attorney Hillar Moore, 19th JDC. "We have to now make sure that we fix the problems from the past, and now fund the support necessary for the additional new juveniles we will have in an already overburdened system."
Moore explains that Louisiana adopted the Missouri approach to juvenile justice, but that has failed to show results.
"We are suffering now because of it, especially [the Office of Juvenile Justice], Moore noted. "We shut down beds years ago and are now cutting secured beds even more, yet offenses continue to occur with no secure place to keep these violent juveniles."
Gov. John Bel Edwards is in support of the bill and it is included in his legislative package. He said, "treating 17-year-old offenders as adults is costing our state too much money."
Sen. Morrell said states with similar legislation have seen long-term correctional savings.
Moore notes that the cost could be greater if certain considerations are not made.
"Public safety should always be paramount," he said. "Juveniles have more access to weapons and often times are violent. We see this every day.
"We also need to find ways to assist parents and to hold those accountable for their actions or lack of actions in matters involving their kids."
It has been 108 years since Louisiana reviewed the age at which children are treated as adults for the purpose of criminal prosecution. The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.