Last Friday, Louisiana joined the majority of states by implementing “Raise the Age” legislation. The first phase of the law, passed in 2016, went into effect after a one-year delay caused by budgeting shortfalls. The implementation of this law will ensure that the state will no longer automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults. The first phase will incorporate nonviolent offenses, and the second phase, set for 2020, will include the rest of youth.

The inclusion of 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system is something to celebrate. The evidence has become increasingly clear: Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system leads to better outcomes for them and for our society as a whole. Youth incarcerated in juvenile facilities are less likely to suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse. They get the services they need, and thus are less likely to engage in future criminal activity.

In contrast, studies have found that young people transferred to the adult criminal justice system are 34% more likely to be re-arrested for crimes than those retained in the youth justice system. Raise the Age reforms are imperative to facilitate successful youth rehabilitation, especially when they are paired with appropriate mentor guidance and juvenile education programs. Additionally, parental involvement is integrated into the juvenile system, whereas when children are in the adult system, their parents are left completely out of the process. The juvenile system is better situated to provide rehabilitative and educational opportunities that children need.

Louisiana officials have expressed concerns over how they will take on the influx of youth into a system they see as facing challenges. The good news is that states that have already implemented raise the age legislation have not seen the costs they had anticipated, and some even realized savings. Indeed, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Hampshire all passed Raise-the-Age laws despite high cost estimates. The anticipated million-dollar price tags never came to fruition because those estimates did not account for the savings amassed from lower recidivism rates. Vincent Schiraldi, a senior research fellow in criminal justice at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who has studied data gathered from states that have raised the age, suggests that treating 17-year-olds as juveniles may actually reduce public costs over time.

In Louisiana, an additional $4 million has been allocated to the Office of Juvenile Justice to help ease the transition. Over the long run, Louisiana is likely to see the same benefits other states have seen: better outcomes for youth, and fewer young people falling back into the system. In a statement, Rachel Gassert, policy director for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said, “this is going to be better for kids, better for communities. … I don’t think we can understate how important this is. I’m really optimistic about the benefits it will bring for the state.”

The implementation of Raise the Age could also be an invitation for broader reform of the juvenile justice system. Louisiana’s facilities still include outdated youth prisons, rather than smaller, dorm-like settings that have been shown to improve youth outcomes. Raise the Age is an opportunity to make changes to secure lock-up and instead favor evidence-based solutions.

There are still four states left that automatically prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults: Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Texas. While Louisiana’s move to include all juveniles is a step forward, we eagerly await the day when every state treats kids like kids.

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