Raise The Age: Ensuring All Kids Have Access To The Juvenile Justice System

Written by Meaghan Feeney and Aiden Lesley

Ensuring all children under eighteen years of age have access to the juvenile justice system is one of the most widespread protections legislatures provide for children. As of early 2024, only three states excluded seventeen-year-olds from their juvenile justice systems, which is a clear violation of international human rights law. Unfortunately, that number has risen to four this year with Louisiana enacting SB 3 into law. The state of Tennessee attempted a similar move to lower the age of adult criminal court jurisdiction in an emergency session last year. With increasing rhetoric reminiscent of the ‘Super Predator Era’ of the 1990’s, it is crucial that policymakers around the country recognize that continuous efforts to treat children as adults will not result in better public safety or better outcomes for youth offenders. This is because children’s brains are not fully developed and many of them are acting out as a result of trauma they’ve experienced in early childhood. It is imperative that legislation seeking to lower the age of criminal court jurisdiction be rejected wherever they are introduced. Louisiana, along with Texas, Georgia, and Wisconsin, should uphold their responsibility to protect children’s human rights by raising the age to allow cases involving seventeen year olds to be kept in juvenile court. By lowering the barrier of entry into the adult justice system, state policymakers will cause drastic increases in the number of children who are incarcerated in correctional facilities that also house adults. This will result in severe harm to hundreds of children every year, including setbacks in education and rehabilitation, victimization at the hands of adult inmates and staff, and neglect of the very programs designed to help them that reside in the juvenile justice system. This fact sheet is intended to inform the public and policymakers on the human rights violation of excluding 17-year-olds from juvenile courts, which compromises public safety and efforts to successfully rehabilitate children.

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