Have you heard about the Raise the Age (RTA) law? Well, it is a law that was meant to take effect in 2021 and has partially been implemented. The law was informed by the fact that children aged 17 years were being charged as adults and that had detrimental effects to the children and society. The passing of the law was to treat juvenile offenders as children and not as adults.
Dangers of charging minors as adults
The effect of charging minors as adults had several negative ramifications. One, when such minors were charged, they were treated as adults and not as juveniles. Once assumed to be adults, they would be jailed alongside adults and not with their peers.
Two, when charged as an adult, the child would be disenfranchised from being given an opportunity on account of their criminal record if they were convicted of the offenses charged.
Three, when minors are incarcerated, there is an enhanced chance of recidivism. Essentially, recidivism is the act of re-offending. Upon conviction, child offenders mingle with other inmates who are perhaps imprisoned for serious criminal charges. This interaction can negatively impact minors, resulting in the potential to take on and commit more serious offenses once released from prison.
Raise the age law and the confusion in implementing the law
Seventeen-year-olds are still minors whose brains have not fully developed. Therefore, holding them on the same pedestal as adults is problematic. A change in law was then proposed to address these challenges.
A two-year grace period was imposed to enable stakeholders to review the law and familiarize themselves with it before taking effect on January 1, 2021. However, the law has been partially implemented, causing confusion.
In St. Louis, there have been challenges with the implementation of the law. There are certain courts where minors have been charged with minors while others have been charged as adults.
This situation if it continues unabated will set a bad precedent. For those who haven’t implemented the law, their argument has been that the law was conditional on having finances to fund the program. Therefore, as such funds haven’t been availed, they cannot fully implement the law.
As mentioned, for uniformity, there is a need to quickly address the challenges to enable quick integration of the new law.
Raise the Age law is timely legislation. As 17-year-olds are still children, they are likely to be reformed without resorting to lengthy custodial sentences with the potential for recidivism. Therefore, the impasse needs to be resolved soon.