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LCCR Fighting to Save Raise the Age

May 31, 2022
Courtney M. McSwain

Updated June 9, 2022

On Monday, June 6, 2022 the Louisiana legislative session ended without bill SB418 reaching the House floor for a vote, leaving the existing "Raise the Age" law in tact - great news for youth justice advocates in Louisiana and across the country! From Rachel Gassert, Policy Director at Louisiana Center for Children's Rights:

"We are pleased that the House of Representatives made the right choice not to take up the bill, thus ensuring its failure and leaving Louisiana’s Raise the Age law in tact. This bill would not have reduced violence in our communities nor addressed the true causes of crime.

We passed the Raise the Age Act in 2016 because forcing teenagers into the adult system is harmful to kids and our community and does nothing to make us safer. Teenagers are not served by an adult system that was not designed for them and cannot address their unique needs. Incarcerating youth in adult facilities dramatically increases the likelihood that they will be victims of physical and sexual assault or die by suicide, and exposes the state and localities to onerous and expensive litigation. Seventeen-year-olds cannot vote, gamble, and can’t sign a contract – because under every other aspect of the law, they are kids and treated as such. Passing Raise the Age was the right thing to do. Louisiana should be proud of this law and reject any future efforts to roll it back."

Original Article: 

Advocates in Louisiana have been working
overtime this legislative session to save the
“Raise the Age” law passed in 2016, which ended the automatic charge of 17-year-olds as adults. NJJN member Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR) has been one of the organizations working diligently to maintain the law, which came under attack in April. Thanks to advocacy efforts, the amended bill would not repeal Raise the Age outright. “But it does go backward on the idea that 17-year-olds should not be in adult jails. It makes adult jail the default for 17-year-olds charged with certain offenses, even though they haven’t been charged as an adult. This is in violation of multiple core requirements of the JJDPA and will cause Louisiana to lose our federal funding,” explains Rachel Gassert, LCCR’s policy director.  

Across the country, narratives about youth crime have raised serious concern about political efforts to undo key youth justice policy advances advocates won in recent years. “We started hearing about Raise the Age rollback efforts in March and we were kind of caught off guard,” says Sydney Walker, LCCR’s Digital Communications Manager. We didn’t know going into the legislative session that this was going to be on the table.”  

So, what precipitated the surprising move to change the Raise the Age law?  

“There’s an attempt to place blame for rising crime and gun violence on the Raise the Age law, despite the fact there’s no evidence connecting the two,” Walker says. Indeed, as reported by The Advocate, while the rates of murders began increasing in the state in early 2020, however youth under 18 account for only 4.4 percent of the total number - down from 5 percent in 2018. And data analyst Jeff Asher, who testified on the issue, stated there was no evidence linking the Raise the Age law to an increase in murder or gun violence, The Advocate reports. Still, fears about societal violence have driven lawmakers to place blame on children.  

For decades, youth justice advocates have been pushing back against media reports and political rhetoric that pull on the emotional fears and racist archetypes about Black youth and violent crime such as the “super predatormyth perpetuated in the 1990s.   

“We thought we had shifted this narrative in 2016 when we passed the Raise the Age bill. We thought we had gotten a grasp on the reality that 17-year-olds are children and should be treated as such.”  But this is a dark reminder that narratives are all connected,” Walker says. “What we see now is that these narratives are directly tied to how people feel about safety in the community, and who they think is making them unsafe.”  

Part of LCCR’s strategy to save Raise the Age, is educating the public and lawmakers on the truth of what the law actually does. “People have the idea that Raise the Age means no accountability for 17-year-olds, but that’s not the case. It simply stops them from automatically being charged as an adult for an alleged crime. The current law doesn’t prohibit a 17-year-old from being charged as an adult - that’s a choice that the district attorney can make,” Walker says. “The current law also means families have to be included in the process. Before, when a 17-year-old was automatically considered an adult, there was no requirement to contact their families.”  

Beyond educating the public on the specifics of Raise the Age law, Walker says they’ve been driving home the point that locking young people in jail doesn’t solve crime problems. “There’s a strong urge to put kids in jail, even though we know the negative consequences on the kids and the state. It costs more money to lock them up. They don’t get the education they need and they’re more likely to end up back in jail. We know it doesn’t work to create safety, but yet we still do it.”  

As of the publication of this article, Louisiana’s legislature remained in session and a final vote on the bill to rollback Raise the Age had not yet been taken. LCCR has released a Spark Action alert for Louisiana residents to voice their support of the current law.  


To learn more about the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, visit them online at https://lakidsrights.org/. You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram 

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