More 17-year-old offenders headed to juvenile system

More 17-year-old offenders headed to juvenile system
Under new law more offenders will be treated as children

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - There’s change to criminal justice in Louisiana impacting 17-year-olds who break the law.

One of the advantages of being in juvenile court is that the offenders are protected from public scrutiny. Their bad acts and court proceedings are closed to the public. So, offenders get a chance to overcome youthful mistakes and grow into law-abiding adults.

Under the new law, Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier explains more 17-year-olds will stay in the juvenile system.

Beginning July 1, 2020, 17-year-olds will be treated as juveniles—unless, of course, they commit one of the crimes listed in the statutes and constitution for which they can be, after a hearing, charged as an adult in the criminal justice system.

Advocates for the change say it will help young people succeed and stay out of the adult criminal justice system.

Local law enforcement has received training help officers implement changes in the law.

There are expected to be more young people in juvenile detention and more demand on juvenile probation officers.

Officials say it's too early to know if that will cause budget issues.

Director of Calcasieu Juvenile Justice Services William Sommers says juvenile justice reform in the state has been underway. Sommers says there was a study in 2015 by the Institute of Public Health and LSU Health Science Center that came away with three major findings:

• 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.

• States that have recently gone before Louisiana in raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction 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.

“It truly does take a village to help kids be successful. That’s why we’ve worked with law enforcement, community partners, and everyone in between to prepare for Raise the Age. Together, we’ve reduced the number of children that are detained, and have bulked up services and diversion programs over the years to keep young people out of the system. We’re as ready as we can be for 17-year-olds and we’re getting better outcomes for kids of all ages,” said Sommers.

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