BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD)— Passed in committee on Tuesday and expected to hit the House floor is a bill that would hold 17-year-olds accused of violent crimes in adult facilities during pretrial.
“Now you have taken a child who allegedly has a 40% chance that they didn’t do it. And you’re sticking him for an indefinite period of time in a cell with convicted rapists,” stated State Representative Marcus Bryant.
There was a lot of tension regarding Senator Stewart Cathey (R) bill concerning troubled teens during the House Committee on Administrative Criminal Justice.
The bill based to the House floor in a 6 to 5 vote.
“If they’re charged with a crime of violence, they will be booked into an adult facility where they will then have a continued custody hearing within 24 hours,” explained Sen. Cathey.
During the trial the teen could be transferred back to the Juvenile center.
“They would go into an adult facility where they deserve to be until the custody hearing can be held,” said Cathey.
“Over 80% of people look like me,” said Bryant who is an African American male.
Youth advocates also mentioned the state could lose federal money if this bill passes.
“Because we are violating the federal law that says that kids who are charged with delinquent offenses cannot be held in adult jails,” explained Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights Policy Director Rachel Gassert.
They also said 17-year-olds are vulnerable to being targeted in these adult centers.
“So on paper, these are very tough kids. But in reality… I’ve had clients assaulted, physically, sexually extorted by adults, denied education, denied the right to go outside,” Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights Staff attorney Marshall Thomas said.
Former youth prison inmates who got out at an earlier age say this bill would do more harm than good.
“If we can’t protect adult offenders in facilities, what would make any of us think that we could protect the most vulnerable in these same facilities?, ” said Former Juvenile Inmate Aaron Howser. “They’re more apt to be preyed upon by older inmates. I saw that during my time in prison. Second, when we send a child into an adult facility, you’re going to make them a better criminal, not a better person. They’re exposed to more experienced criminals. And these people are going to mentor them and not in a good way.”
“We will eventually return to society. So if the long game is to make us better for it once we return, it starts at the beginning. So we are speaking about an innocent 17-year-old’s pretrial, not people who have been adjudicated. Place them in a situation that gives them the best chance,” added Former Juvenile Inmate Terrance Simon.
Right now, the bill is expected to hit the House floor in a few weeks. However, It could be sent back to the Appropriations Committee if heavier funding is believed to be required by the state if the bill is passed.