CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) – A change is coming as to when the Palmetto State considers you an adult. State lawmakers voted to raise the age from 17 to 18 starting July 2019.
The idea is to reduce the number of teens incarcerated alongside adult offenders while offering a more forgiving rehabilitation. 15th circuit solicitor Jimmy Richardson explained to News13 Tuesday that it’s not that simple.
The new law will keep teens in the juvenile system for an additional year. Right now, if you’re one day away from 17 years old you’re taken care of by family court. If you commit the crime the next day when you turn 17, you’ll go straight to jail. Proponents of the law say that system is not designed for rehabilitation like the juvenile system is.
The law seems straightforward, but Richardson said it’s anything but. “Any time you throw a rock in water you’re gonna see ripple effects,” he told News13. He explained the decision does not match the current crime we’re seeing. “Our crime is getting younger, and the state by this is trending older.”
Earlier this summer, authorities say Derias Little opened fire into a crowd on Ocean Boulevard. Little was 17, which prompted News13 to ask Richardson what this would mean under the new law.
“We would have done our best to move him up as an adult even if he wasn’t an adult,” Richardson said.
A judge could rule 14 to 17 year olds be tried as adults, depending on the crime.
The law would also mean having to move inmates to different facilities. “You’re basically moving a prison population from adult prison to juvenile prison,” Richardson said. This could cost taxpayers if a new DJJ facility is built.
Richardson explained the other changes that would come under the new law, including changing probation to last until age 20 rather than 18. Commitment to DJJ would be up to the 22 birthday instead of the 21.
Also, unless the law of school age changes, Richardson said you would have a situation where people are legally able to drop out of school at 17, but they would be on probation until they are 20.
“If you’ve got a 16 year old that refused to go to school for truancy and was put on probation, he might very well be put on probation until his 20 birthday,” Richardson explained. “So they may remain on probation a lot longer than they would have.”
But Richardson said he thinks the changes are manageable: “If 45 other states do it, there’s nothing to say we couldn’t do it also.”
The law is slated to go into effect in 2019 if DJJ gets the funds necessary to implement it. Only five states still consider someone 17 or older as an adult; and only two states, North Carolina and New York, treat anyone 16 and older as adults.