Louisiana is one of nine states where 17-year-olds are automatically tried as adults. A group of advocates are drafting a bill that would change that age 18.
“The people that are trying to change the law are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.” says Ouachita Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones.
He says the courts aren’t putting kids behind bars but criminals. “What you are trying to tell me is I can’t keep a cold blooded murder or a serial rapist off the streets because he is 17 years old?”
To emphasis his point, Jones reads from a graphic letter written by convicted murder Dalton Fletcher. Fletcher shot and killed his parents as a teenager and is now serving a life sentence at Angola state prison.
Part of it reads, “The last thing my dad ask me, the last thing that he ever said was ‘Son, why did you shoot me?’ He voice wasn’t even mad, he was hurt, I hurt his feelings. You see? I wish I had that moment back because I want to be able to see that hurt in his eyes 10 times over and more. It went by too fast for me.”
Also in the letter, Fletcher talks about his time behind bars saying in part, “when you’re 17 in the parish they take you as weak.”
Jones says raising the age could open up cracks in the justice system.
He says, “I don’t want that person going home, and I don’t want them in class with other children.”
Jones says the district attorney’s office typically recommends diversion programs for young, non-violent offenders to keep them out of jail, but still give them a chance to learn from their mistakes.
“We try to treat them. We try to save them. We try to put them back into school. We put them on probation for a period of time,” he says. “Jail is not good for anyone, especially young people.”