‘Raise the Age’ law rollback moves to Louisiana House. 17-year-old would move to adult prison. | Legislature

All but one of the Republican members present Tuesday on a House committee voted to end the “Raise the Age” law that keeps 17-year-old arrestees from being imprisoned with adult convicts.

On a 6-5 vote, the House Committee for the Administration of Criminal Justice advanced for a full House vote Senate Bill 418, which the state Senate already has passed. The measure divests juvenile court jurisdiction and allows incarceration in adult prisons for any 17-year-old accused of any one of a dozen crimes classified as violent or a second offense of dozen or so more crimes.

The “Raise the Age” law was approved in 2016 to great fanfare – allowing Louisiana to join 47 states that put most 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system rather than being tried and punished as adults.

Sen. Stewart Cathey Jr., R-Monroe, said the legislation began as entreaties by District Attorney Tony Clayton, of Port Allen, and Attorney General Jeff Landry asking for help to do something with the “bad 17-years-olds.” Violence involving teenagers has increased dramatically since the “Raise the Age” law was passed into law and prosecutors needed more flexibility to address the situation, Cathey said.

“This is a significant issue, a significant problem,” said Cathey, adding that he would continue working with prosecutors to get the timelines correct in the legislation.

Amid a push for criminal justice reform several years ago, Louisiana legislators scaled back the practice of charging older youth defendants a…

“Your bill is an unraise the age bill,” said Committee Chair Joe Marino, No Party-Gretna, told Cathey. It “makes us go backward.”

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Marino, one of the few criminal law lawyers on the panel, said the “Raise the Age” law already has procedures for handling juveniles – down to 15 years of age – in the adult system if they are indicted on charges of first degree murder, second degree murder, aggravated or first degree rape, or aggravated kidnapping. A juvenile court needs hold a hearing to determine whether the case remained in juvenile jurisdiction or moved to the adult system.

“I’m not clear how we’re changing the procedure,” Marino said.

Cathey responded that the system goes too slow. Under his measure, upon arrest for a violent crime, a suspected 17-year-old offender would go into the adult system. A judge in the adult system would decide whether the youngster would stay in the adult system or move to juvenile jurisdiction.

State Rep. Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia, pointed out that under the bill, children who have been arrested but not convicted would be put in cells with adults convicted of all sorts of crimes. Parish prisons hold about half of the adults serving time on state charges, often on violent felony charges. Bryant said 40% of the youngsters arrested are not charged and are eventually released.

Voting to roll back the “Raise the Age” law (6): Reps Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux; Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette; Jonathan Goudeau, R-Lafayette; Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond; Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport; and Debbie Villio, R-Kenner.

Voting against SB418 (5): Chair Joe Marino, No Party-Gretna; Reps Marcus Bryant, D-New Iberia; Vanessa LaFleur, D-Baton Rouge; C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge; and Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville.

Amid a push for criminal justice reform several years ago, Louisiana legislators scaled back the practice of charging older youth defendants a…