Louisiana is about to raise the age of what is considered an adult in the eyes of the law.
To date, Louisiana is one of nine states where 17-year-olds who commit minor offenses are treated as adults.
Senate Bill 324 on Thursday won easy approval in the Louisiana House and already has been approved by the state Senate. The measure passed the House by a vote of 97-3 with 21 co-authors.
But a minor change in wording means the legislation must return to the Senate for final passage.
SB324 raises the age of a legal adult from 17 to 18, which effectively means 17-year-olds who commit delinquent crimes can be processed by the juvenile justice system rather than treating them as adults who go to prisons.
It was a key part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative package, and the governor said polls show it is supported by 66 percent of Louisiana residents.
“This is a significant step forward for Louisiana as we work to reform our criminal justice system,” Edwards said in a news release. “We know that at 17 a young person’s brain is still developing. We recognize this when it comes to voting, joining the military, or even buying a lottery ticket. Appropriately, under this bill, district attorneys retain the authority to decide, case by case, whether to prosecute an individual as an adult. We are no longer giving up on our young people; rather, we are giving them a chance to get their lives back on track. I look forward to signing this bill into law.”
The bill still allows district attorneys the discretion to charge minors as adults in cases of more serious violent crimes. Prior to this legislation, it had been 108 years since Louisiana reviewed the age at which children could be criminally prosecuted as adults, Edwards stated.
“This measure will go a long way toward modernizing and improving Louisiana’s criminal justice system,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, said in a prepared statement. “It’s clear that children should not always be tried as adults. Not only is this much better for their futures, but it saves taxpayers money and makes our communities safer and stronger.”
Morrell texted Thursday night that he is okay with the House amendments.
Only 6.7 percent of the 17-year-olds arrested in 2012 were charged with violent crimes, according the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement’s most recent statistics.
Edwards’ office has estimated the change would save the state $58.3 million through lower incarceration rates.
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