17-year-olds to enter juvenile justice system

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For years legislators have fought to raise the criminal age in an effort to keep 17-year-olds out of adult prisons.

Beginning March 1st Louisiana will join the majority of the country by including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system.

Currently, 17-year-olds are processed and the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center.

When this new law goes into effect, 17-year-old lawbreakers will be processed with other teens at the Juvenile Assessment Center

In 2016, State Senator John Morrell of New Orleans pushed for a bill that would allow 17-year-olds to enter the juvenile justice system instead of going into adult prisons.

In Lafayette Parish that means they would now be processed at JAC; the Juvenile Assessment Center.

“It gives the majority of them a sec’, said Linda Dalton, Youth Services Supervisor at the Juvenile Assessment Center.

With the new law taking effect March 1st, she says they expect an increase of roughly 20%.

“We’ll know probably within the first year. It’s going to be kind of touch and go”, Dalton said.

Bobby Cormier is the administrator at the Lafayette Juvenile Detention Home.

Cormier says as of now there isn’t a plan in place to expand the 32 bed, dual occupancy facility, and they may not need to if history trends repeat.

“We’re not full all the time. Matter of fact, we’ve never had 32 kids since I’ve been here,” he explained.

17-year-olds convicted of violent crimes will be incarcerated in the juvenile pod of LPCC.

For the nonviolent offenders who will now be processed at JAC, Dalton says those teens will receive guidance soon as they walk through the door.

“We also have CBT, cognitive behavior therapy, we have a group of people here that are very well-versed, they are licensed mental health professionals. We have substance abuse here. So, we can identify those things that pop up in these kids lives” Dalton said.

In addition to behavioral counseling and substance abuse intervention; things that happen once inside the Juvenile Assessment Center, you can refer youth between the ages of 10 and 17 for these same services free of charge.

Hopefully getting them the help they need before getting tied up in the criminal justice system.

According to the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, beginning tomorrow, 17-year-old offenders facing “non-violent” charges will be moved through the juvenile justice system.

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