In 2016, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law saying 17 year olds would no longer be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Instead, they’d be considered juveniles.
“Keeping kids out of the adult system actually makes them less likely to reoffend," said Rachel Gassert, Policy Director for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, a group that advocated for the Raise the Age Act.
“We anticipate that it will ultimately save the state money because of the reduced recidivism rates - that fewer kids will be ending up graduating, if you will, into the adult system,” said Gassert.
The change in law regarding non-violent offenders was supposed to take effect next month, but funding concerns led the Legislature to push it back to March of 2019.
James Bueche is the Deputy Secretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice. He says 17 year olds will be better served in the juvenile system, but it will cost his department more money. “We know that’s going to have an impact on our ability to provide services," said Bueche.
Because of federal requirements, it costs more money to treat someone as a juvenile rather than an adult Originally, money wasn’t provided in next year’s budget to pay for these additional youth coming into the system. Ultimately, the Legislature moved an extra $4 million to the Office of Juvenile Justice to help cover the cost of implementing the Raise the Age Act.
Bueche says that additional money will also help pay to open a part of the new youth detention facility in Bunkie, easing concerns about where some additional 17 year olds will be housed.
"What we’re trying to do is get a solid plan of what that looks like, it’s probably going to be two or three dorms. The dorms are 12 kids each," said Bueche.
The 72-bed facility has been sitting empty since it was completed in 2016, because the state hasn’t had the money to open it.