Home News Center Louisiana Passes Sweeping Juvenile Justice Reform Measures

Louisiana Passes Sweeping Juvenile Justice Reform Measures

July 7, 2016
Renee Slajda

juvenile-justice-reform_LouisianaFor the first time in almost 15 years, Louisiana legislators have taken a serious look at the state’s juvenile justice system and committed to ensuring better outcomes for youth and communities. 

A four-bill package of reforms received overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature.  The package was supported by the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition, a network of 70 organizations advocating for a safe, smart, cost-effective, and fair juvenile justice system.

The Coalition’s cornerstone bill, the Raise the Age Louisiana Act, will raise the age of criminal jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old.  Louisiana now joins 41 other states that include 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. (This year alone, versions of raise-the-age legislation passed in South Carolina and Vermont passed, and the House of Representatives in Michigan.)  

“Raise the Age is simply common sense policy,” said Governor Edwards, who included the bill in his 2016 legislative agenda.  “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. […] In the end, it’s about not giving up on any young person.”

To this end, the legislature also passed a law to help right-size the juvenile justice system by ensuring that youth do not remain in state facilities for excessively long periods of time, and by mandating data reporting about youth in detention centers and juvenile prisons. Savings from reduced incarceration will be reinvested in localities for use in community-based programs for youth, to further aid in decarceration.

For children who are already in custody, an additional law ensures their right to counsel by bringing youth back to court for semi-annual reviews and making it easier for lawyers to get paperwork on their clients. The final act of the package addresses education in custody by setting up a process to evaluate schools in secure juvenile justice facilities and effectively intervene if those schools fail. 

“The Legislature followed the will of the people,” said Josh Perry, executive director of the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and organizer for the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition. 

“The runaway success of Raise the Age and other common-sense juvenile justice reforms in this legislative session show that Louisiana is united in wanting a juvenile justice system that provides every child with fairness, dignity, and opportunity.” 

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