(WAFB) - Beginning Friday, March 1, Louisiana 17-year-olds who commit a non-violent crime will be processed through the juvenile justice system rather than in adult courts.
The legislature passed the “raise the age” legislation in 2016, which was delayed because of the state’s budget troubles.
Gov. John Bel Edwards called the bill a “down payment” on criminal justice reform when he signed it into law in 2016. People who are convicted of crimes as juveniles have a chance to erase their criminal records when they turn 18.
“17-year-olds are children. We define them as children in almost every other way in the law, and I think most parents would tell you their 17-year-olds are definitely still kids," Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights policy director Rachel Gassert said. "They aren’t allowed to vote, buy cigarettes, or enlist in the military. We draw the line at 18 for so many other things that it doesn’t make sense for them to be automatically treated as adults in the justice system.”
Gassert said children imprisoned in adult penitentiaries are more likely to commit suicide, be physically assaulted, or be sexually assaulted than children placed in juvenile centers.
“Juvenile facilities are designed to keep them safer,” she said. “The adult system doesn’t have the capability to give kids what they need to get back on the right track.”
In 2020, the law will expand so 17-year-olds who commit any crime will be treated in the juvenile system, not just non-violent offenders. Only four other states in the nation have yet to ‘raise the age’ to 18.