BATON ROUGE, La. (KTVE/KARD/The Advocate) — According to The Advocate Capitol Bureau Editor Mark Ballard, on Tuesday, April 26, 2022, a Louisiana Senate committee, without objection, advanced legislation to repeal the “Raise the Age” law and send 17-year-olds to adult prisons, even though five of the senators on the panel backed the law when lawmakers passed it in 2016.

Ballard reported that during the Senate committee, Attorney General Jeff Landry, 18th Judicial District Attorney Tony Clayton and former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who now works for Landry, recalled details related to recent teenage shootings.

The officials testified together that out-of-control teenagers are largely responsible for the increase in violent crimes Louisiana is experiencing and that the obstacles put in place by the “Raise the Age Act” keeps law enforcement from being adequately able to handle the rise in juvenile crime.

According to Ballard, “Give me the teeth to fight it,” said Clayton. “I’m giving ‘Raise the Age’ a break, but it’s not working … Let me lock his little butt up.”

Clayton prosecutes crimes in Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes.

Ballard reported that Clayton showed a video of some of his 17-year-old constituents showing off guns and security footage of teenagers breaking into a vehicle to steal guns. Ballard wrote how Clayton argued the law requires him to send a 17-year-old arrestee to Alabama, at a cost of $600 a day, because his parish jails, which cost $26 a day, cannot hold juveniles.

According to Ballard, Attorney General Landry stated that the criminal justice system is in disarray. “It is important that we get bright line rules,” Landry said in support of Senate Bill 418.

According to the Policy Director at the New Orleans-based Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights Rachel Gassert, Clayton’s real problem is that his parishes don’t have an adequate detention facility for juveniles and he doesn’t want to spend $600 a day.

“He will continue to have this problem,” even if lawmakers repealed the Raise the Age law, Gassert said. “That is not a reason to repeal a law that’s going to impact the entire state … They are kids.”

According to Ballard, under existing law, trying an under-aged teenager as an adult for a violent crime, which has harsher penalties, instead of as a juvenile, is a simple procedure that the prosecutors themselves control.

Ballard wrote that the Raise the Age Act was signed into law in June 2016, making Louisiana the 42nd of 50 states to charge 17-year-olds as juvenile offenders, prosecute them in juvenile courts, and if convicted send them to juvenile detention facilities instead of adult prisons. According to Ballard, studies show that youth in adult prisons often are preyed upon by adult inmates and are more likely to leave prison as seasoned criminals.

Ballard wrote that in 2016 lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the legislation, including “yes” votes from:

  • Senate Judiciary B Committee Chair Gary L. Smith Jr, a Democrat of Norco.
  • Senator Gregory Tarver a Democrat of Shreveport.
  • Senator Joseph Bouie a Democrat of New Orleans.
  • Senator Cameron Henry a Republican of Metairie.
  • Senator Kirk Talbot a Republican of River Ridge.

Ballard reported that the two other committee members, Senator Patrick McMath a Republican of Covington and Mike Reese a Republican of Leesville, were not elected until 2020.

According to Ballard, with the committee’s action to advance SB418 without anyone objecting, the legislation now heads to the full Senate. Ballard reported that if repealing the “Raise the Age” is approved by lawmakers in the upper chamber, the measure then would head for consideration by the House.

He shared how in 2020, murders increased 30 percent nationally and 35 percent in Louisiana. However, Ballard reported that Jeff Asher, a data analyst for AH Datalytics, that does work for New Orleans law enforcement agencies, testified about how Louisiana has had highest murder rate for 32 straight years. According to Ballard, the statistics revealed large increases for violent crimes in red and blue states, big cities, small towns and suburbs. Ballard reported that the rates of murders started increasing in early 2020, accelerated in May 2020, and have stayed elevated since.

According to Ballard, those under the age of 18-years-old accounted for 4.4 percent of all murder offenders in Louisiana in 2020 which is down from 5 percent since 2018.

Ballard reported that Asher stated the data shows no evidence that the implementation of “Raise the Age” contributed to the statewide increase in murder or gun violence.

“You’re saying that for every 100 murders committed in this country roughly five are done by juveniles,” Senator Talbot said. “These statistics don’t make me feel better. Tony Clayton makes me feel better.”