Louisiana Legislature advances bill to repeal 2017 'Raise the Age' legislation

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – Legislation to repeal the “Raise the Age” bill crossed a hurdle when it received favorable response from a Senate panel last week at the State Capitol.

Senate Bill 418 by Monroe Republican Stewart Cathey Jr. would strike down a 2017 bill that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved with the support of Gov. John Edwards.

A repeal would allow law enforcement agencies to send 17-year-old detainees to parish detention centers rather than a juvenile facility.

District Attorney Tony Clayton – prosecutor for Pointe Coupee, Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes – spoke in favor of the repeal during the discussion last week.

Clayton said he hopes the hearing will mark a step in the right direction.

District Attorney Tony Clayton

“I hope the whole deal passes, and I hope the governor signs it,” he said. “It’s not that we want to lock them all up, but if they do the violent acts, we should have the authority.”

Clayton was at a panel along with state Attorney General Jeff Landry and former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizaro.

“Give me the teeth to fight it. It’s not working … let me lock up his little butt,” said Clayton, in reference to the offenders.

“Raise the Age,” sponsored by New Orleans Democratic Sen. J.P. Morrell, put the juvenile justice system in charge of handling non-violent crimes committed by 17-year-olds.

The legislation took effect in 2019.

In July 2020, the legislation sent offenders of that age charged with violent crime – such as rape, armed robbery or assault – to the juvenile justice system.

Under the law, the state no longer automatically arrests, detains and prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults when the teens are accused of nonviolent crimes.

Advocates hoped the bill would better rehabilitate youth.

In less than two years, a spike in crime among 17-year-olds has left law enforcement agencies statewide scrambling to find spots in juvenile facilities for those suspects before they go to trial.

The small number of juvenile detention facilities in Louisiana has forced parish law enforcement agencies to seek facilities outside the state.

Housing of inmates in those out-of-state facilities cost of $600 or more per day, at taxpayer’s expense.

It does not include the cost parishes must pay to transport the accused felon to those facilities.

Detention in parish jails runs $26 per day in the 18th Judicial District.

In other cases, the lack of available facilities has forced law enforcement to send accused offenders back home with an ankle bracelet.

In many cases, they remove the bracelet and are back on the street, Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi has said.

The costs to detain offenders in juvenile facilities has been costly to parish governments, he said.

Clayton said he expects pushback from House Democrats, who will fight to prevent a repeal.

“The Senate will be OK, but the House will come down hard on me and beat me pretty badly with all the liberals saying that all we want to do is put kids in jail,” he said. “I’ll be prepared to fight them.”