Lawmakers vote to lower age juveniles can be tried as an adult

BATON ROUGE– The first bills from the legislative special session geared toward curbing crime were awarded final passage Wednesday, paving the way for a change in the state’s approach toward juvenile justice.

The proposed laws will head to the Gov. Jeff Landry’s desk for him to sign, one of which is a law that will treat all 17-year-olds charged with crimes as adults.

“We need to protect our children,” said Rep. Raymond Crews. “We find ourselves in a different state today. We find ourselves with an exacerbated problem of crime and violence, particularly among the younger ones. We’re going to go back to the way we used to do it, which worked well. We were hopeful, but let’s face it, it didn’t work, and we’re in a worse place today than we were then.”

SB 3, the bill that will lower the age to charge 17-year-olds as adults, was discussed on the House floor Wednesday. Those who opposed the bill believe the measures won’t reduce crime.

“I have heard nothing here about prevention of crime,” said Rep. Sylvia Elaine Taylor, D-Reserve. “Making punishment more severe? That’s not going to stop crime.”

In Louisiana, some lawmakers blamed a spike in violent juvenile crime that began after the COVID-19 pandemic on a 2016 law known as “Raise the Age,” which funneled 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system.

In June 2016, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB 324 into law. Before the law, a 17-year-old was considered an adult and held in adult prison. After SB 324 passed, a 17-year-old is considered a juvenile and must be housed at a juvenile detention center. The law only applies to non-violent crimes. Those who are seventeen and commit violent crimes, such as murder or rape, may still be tried as adults depending on the local district attorney’s decision.

The ammunition behind changing the law was to give 17-year-olds a chance at life instead of sentencing them off to prison for years at a time for a non-violent crime.

Senate Bill 3 to lower the age juveniles can be tried as adults to age 17, passed the House with a 74-26 vote Wednesday.

MORE FROM UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN: Teens escape triggers conversation to revert 17 year olds from juvenile to adult status

Black lawmakers opposed the bill, citing that black youth make up a larger share of the prison population and would be disproportionately impacted.

“I don’t think anyone believes those who commit a crime shouldn’t be punished, but I want you to look a little deeper,” said Rep. Alonzo Knox, D-New Orleans. “The fact is more than 60 percent of the people we’re going to be sending to these prisons look like me. They’re black kids.”

Knox proposed an amendment to ensure 17-year-olds would have access to education, counseling, and vocational training while incarcerated. His amendment failed 56-46.

Some juvenile records will become public

The legislature approved House Bill 1, which would make juvenile court records public when teens are accused of violent crimes.

Local clerks of courts would make court minutes available online under the bill.

Some lawmakers proposed amendments to make the records available only to victims and their family members.

The Senate rejected the amendments and approved HB 1 with a 27-9 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk.

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