La. lawmaker looks to delay implementation of 'Raise the Age' law

Two years ago, with the backing of the governor, the state legislature approved a change, moving most 17-year-old offenders out of the adult system and into the juvenile track. (Source: WAFB)
Two years ago, with the backing of the governor, the state legislature approved a change, moving most 17-year-old offenders out of the adult system and into the juvenile track. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A change two-years in the making could be delayed because of Louisiana's ongoing budget woes.

Two years ago, with the backing of the governor, the state legislature approved a change, moving most 17-year-old offenders out of the adult system and into the juvenile track. That includes housing them at separate facilities.

The first stage of that "Raise the Age" transition – for non-violent offenders – was set to take effect starting July 1, 2018. District attorneys and sheriffs want a two-year delay.

"It's just not time yet," said Calcasieu DA John DeRosier during an appearance before Senate committee last week.

DA and sheriffs worry that because of the state's fiscal problems, there is simply not enough money to effectively implement the changes at this time. They are backing SB 248 by Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, which would delay the rule change until 2020.

"We want to make sure it is well-funded. Obviously, there is nothing in the anytime near future to suggest that this will be funded at all, much less well-funded," DeRosier said.

But children's rights advocates say lawmakers have power over the state's budget. They argue that if lawmakers really believe this is a priority, they should put money toward it.

"Every day that we delay, it means more 17-year-olds could be placed in harm's way in jails across the state," said Rachel Gassert with the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights.

Last year, a 17-year-old inmate was sexually assaulted in the East Baton Rouge prison. Prison officials do not deny that the incident occurred, and the inmate's cellmate was charged with rape.

Juvenile justice advocates say that incident proves that those 17 and under should not be mixed in with the general population. "It's putting kids in this state at risk, very real risk," Gassert said.

Even with the change, DAs would still have the power to try 17-year-olds as adults in rape and murder cases.

According to Edwards administration officials, the governor is open to delaying the implementation by a year.

Last week, facing pushback, Johns delayed a vote on his bill. It is scheduled for another hearing Tuesday in Senate committee.

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