Monday, April 18, 2016

Raise the Age Louisiana: SB324

               Do you ever hear something that gets you fired up? I'm talking about fired up emotionally, as in fired up to the point where you feel like you NEED to take action. As a future social worker, advocate for human rights, and a person who cares about the general well being of others, I feel the need to speak up when I feel like people are being treated unfairly. The fact that Louisiana is one of of only nine states who tries all 17 year olds as adults is very concerning to me. This means that if a 17 year old is convicted of any crime they will be sent to adult prison. 18 is the age used to define the beginning of adulthood in this country. You need to be 18 to vote, you need to be 18 to serve in the army, you need to be 18 to take out a credit card, you need to be 18 to have an unrestricted drivers license in most states, you get the picture. Why should Louisiana's youth be tried as adults at 17? This is why I have decided to support the movement to raise the age at which youth can be tried as adults from 17 to 18 years old. By spreading awareness, I hope that I can help ensure that Senator John Morrell's Senate Bill no. 324, will become a law. You can spread the word by using the hashtags #SB324, #RaiseTheAgeLA, and #LYJD. You can also follow the link here to educate yourself, and take action by clicking on the red take action button in the middle of the page:
            The reason this issue became personal to me is because of my internship at the Youth Empowerment Project, and the students that I work with on a daily basis in the Village Program. Part of my role is to help with intake, during which I administer psychosocial assessments. A psychosocial is basically a fancy term for an in depth interview where you learn about another person's background. During one of the psychosocials I heard a story from one of my students that just didn't sit right with me. My client was running down Canal Street trying to catch the bus, when suddenly he was tackled to the ground by a police officer. He was put in handcuffs, read his miranda rights, and told that he fit the description of somebody who had just committed an armed robbery. They brought him over to the victim and asked if they could identify my client as the assailant. After the victim realized he wasn't the man who had robbed him, they decided to let him go. The cops said they would like to take down his information, incase they needed to bring him in for further questioning. The next day the police called my client's mom, and said he needed to turn himself in, because the victim had flipped his story, but my client didn't want to go to jail, so he ran. He was laying low for 4 months, until one day his friend was giving him a ride to work and they were pulled over because the vehicle turned out to be stolen. His friend got out and ran, and before my client could react he was being arrested for accessory to armed robbery of a stolen vehicle, illegal gun possession for the guns that were in the trunk, and possession of marijuana, on top of the warrant he had for armed robbery. When all was said and done he was facing 25 years in prison, mainly for things out of his control. 
           When he went to trial he was ready to plead guilty to the plea agreement that his lawyer had come up with; 10 years in prison. If he pleaded guilty to the armed robbery charge they would drop all other charges. He was 17 years old, and his life was about to change for the worse. By the grace of God his lawyer came through and got all of the charges dropped. It turns out they didn't have sufficient evidence to charge my client with any of the crimes that he was being accused of. Justice won, and he was given his freedom. But that wasn't before he had faced 76 days in jail, it wasn't before he came to accept the reality that he was about to spend the next ten years of his life in prison, it wasn't before he was separated from his family and everything he knows and loves for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
            My client expressed to me that he knew he was living wrong before he got locked up, and he was trying to turn his life around, which is precisely why he was there talking to me as part of his decision to enroll in our Village Program. It might have been good for him to get that wake up call. But most of the time that's what these kids need; a wake up call, not 10 years in prison. Another one of my clients shared a story with me about his own armed robbery charge, a charge that he was actually guilty of, although according to his story he was only peripherally involved, and far from the main aggressor. The difference was he was 16 when he committed his crime, and he faced two years in a juvenile detention center, rather than the potential of 10 years in adult prison. That's the purpose of the juvenile justice system; create a punishment that fits the crime, modify behavior, and rehabilitate them so that they can hopefully learn from their mistakes and live a meaningful life. The juvenile justice system is far from perfect, but it is much better when compared to the world of adult prison. 
            Hopefully after reading this, you too will become a supporter of the movement to "Raise The Age." But if you don't have any sympathy for these kids, maybe this will help you. Try to think back to when you were 17. What were you doing at 17 years old? Did you make all of the right decisions? Did you ever make a mistake that came to define your young adulthood, and perhaps your entire life? If you can't relate, maybe think of a loved one, or even your own kids who are at this age. I know I personally didn't make all of the right decisions when I was 17. I made some decisions that when I look back on now, I can hardly believe that I even considered it as an idea, but that's part of growing up. According to the Center for Disease Control prosecuting youth in the adult system can increase recidivism by 34%. If the goal of prison is rehabilitation, let's really think about what's best for these kids, and give them a chance to learn from their mistakes. Changes are happening. Are you going to be part of it? 

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