By Mark Ballard | The Advocate
An effort to increase the age which a juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult was advanced by a Louisiana Senate committee Tuesday.
Under law, 17-year-olds are handled like adults when accused of and tried for committing crimes.
Senate Bill 324 is part of a package of measures that would change the processes in the juvenile justice system. The measure would change the legal definition of delinquent, making the age 18 instead of 17. It’s called the Raise the Age Act of 2016.
The legislation also creates the Louisiana Juvenile Jurisdiction Planning and Implementation Council within the Governor’s Office to develop programs that would help reduce of the numbers of youth at each stage in the juvenile justice system.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association had opposed the bill but changed its mind after supporters agreed to a series of amendments that would make it easier for the juvenile justice system to handle the change.
Gov. John Bel Edwards spoke in support of the legislation during his State of the State address and again at a rally on the State Capitol steps last week. Edwards made the point that 17-year-olds couldn’t vote or buy a lottery ticket but could be jailed with adults.
“I support this measure because it is simply good public policy,” Edwards said in a prepared statement after the measure was advanced without objection by the committee. “With an eye toward public safety, research shows consistently that the juvenile justice system does a better job at preventing recidivism. That means fewer future crime victims and less money spent on incarceration down the road.”
Edward P. Mulvey, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the nation’s leading scholars on juvenile offenders, testified to the Senate Judiciary B committee that the national studies he and others have done show that institutionalization does little good in helping juveniles deal with problems. Better that they receive mental health counseling and drug intervention in the community instead, he said.
It has been recognized in courts around the country that because of where they are in their development, adolescents are naturally and temporarily different than adults, he said.
Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, noted that the Legislature had made tremendous improvements in the juvenile facilities. This bill, and others in the package, address the process of prosecuting juveniles who are accused of committing crimes, he said.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate for a vote, and if successful there, it will head to the Louisiana House for consideration.