Years after becoming law, there's a push to reverse the 'Raise the Age' law for juveniles
BATON ROUGE- A pre-filed bill aims to reverse the "Raise the Age" law that took effect in the summer of 2020 allowing 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as juveniles.
The point of the law was to keep young offenders separate from adults.
According to some, the problem now is that penalties in juvenile court are far less when juveniles commit adult-style crimes. Many people believe the law in its current form does not work for Louisiana.
When a teenager used his body as a ram to free multiple other juveniles in East Baton Rouge's juvenile facility last month, it touched off a night of chaos. An entire wing of the building was locked down sparking a massive presence of law enforcement and first responders.
The East Baton Rouge City-Parish was quick to blame "Raise the Age," a law that took effect recently for all the trouble at the juvenile jail.
"Over the last months since 'Raise the Age,' we've had three episodes," City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said. "I think all of those episodes included someone in that age range."
East Baton Rouge said Monday that during the first quarter of this year, 70-percent of the juveniles taking up a spot at juvenile detention were 17-years and older. Almost all of them are accused of felonies.
Currently, the system is overwhelmed across multiple jurisdictions in Louisiana. Lowering the age back to what it was is what some believe would help decrease a growing backlog of cases.
"I think it would be a good idea," District Attorney Ricky Babin said. Babin is the district attorney for the 23rd judicial district, which includes Ascension, Assumption, and St. James parishes.
Ricky Babin said as a result of the law change, it's created more work for prosecutors and law enforcement statewide.
"Now it's forced our hand and causing us to transfer more cases to adult court than we used to because there's no punishment for juvenile crime," Babin said. "I think it's having a boomerang effect."
Currently, there is no place to house juveniles who await trial for violent crimes. It's a problem that's been talked about for the past few months among law enforcement and lawyers in other jurisdictions.
Babin said as of Monday, seven 17-year-olds in his jurisdiction are scattered across the state. Three of them are being held in Mississippi.
"What has been done at the legislature has changed what we can do," Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi said. "The younger that are committing these crimes, we need a facility closer to house these individuals, and until we get one we're going to have to make that trek to Alabama."
With the proposed reversal to the law to now lower the age, Babin said other law enforcement and DA's are in support of it.
"Not to be too disparaging about the system, very difficult to get anything done," Babin said. "There's not punishment or deterrents for juveniles committing crimes."
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's office released the following statement:
The intent of Raise the Age is to keep juveniles separate from adult offenders. Children housed in adult facilities are denied education and age appropriate services that reduce the likelihood of recidivism. This law is in alignment with 46 other states.
With that said, since Raise the Age took effect last summer, the East Baton Rouge Juvenile Detention Center has had an influx of older offenders accused of serious crimes, along with an increase of behavioral incidents and escapes. During the first quarter of 2022, more than 70% of detainees are age 17 or older, with the majority accused of felonies. Many of these older detainees are staying at the facility for months while they await court proceedings, which is for a much longer period than the facility was designed.
We believe the state should provide local governments with the resources needed to enhance juvenile detention facilities and staff in light of the law change.