Criminal Justice

Louisiana Newspaper: Treat 17-Year-Old Suspects as Juveniles

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune Editorial Board Pushes for Presumptively Treating 17-Year-Olds as Juveniles in the Criminal Justice System

The issue of presumptively treating 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system has made headlines in Louisiana.  Currently, 41 states presumptively treat 17-year-olds as juveniles.  Louisiana remains one of the nine states where all 17-year-olds are treated as adults in the state’s criminal justice system.  In Louisiana in 2014, according to the NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune editorial board, approximately 6,000 17-year-olds were arrested, the vast majority for nonviolent crimes.  ALEC supports alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, low-risk offenders, particularly those who are under the age of 18.  In addition, ALEC has model policy calling for 17-year-olds to be treated as juveniles in the criminal justice system.

Louisiana state law currently provides a mechanism for prosecuting juveniles as young as fifteen for certain violent crimes or sex offenses as adults upon a finding of probable cause by a juvenile court judge.  Additionally, Louisiana state law allows for 14-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults for certain crimes upon a finding by a juvenile court judge that the offender cannot be rehabilitated by the state’s juvenile justice system.  ALEC does not support changing or amending that law.

Over the past 20 years, Louisiana’s state prison population has doubled.  Currently, it has ballooned up to 40,000, with only 37 percent of those incarcerated in Louisiana having been convicted of violent crimes.  Reducing the prison population by focusing on nonviolent, low-risk offenders would drive down the costs of incarceration and could save Louisiana millions of dollars on incarceration costs.  Granted, the per diem cost of incarcerating a juvenile offender is higher than an adult offender; however, adult offenders are generally incarcerated for a much longer period of time.  Thus, efforts to reduce the number of 17-year-olds being prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system would save Louisiana money without compromising public safety, as those 17-year-olds who commit certain violent crimes or sex offenses could still be prosecuted as adults.


In Depth: Criminal Justice

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