COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) - South Carolina will soon see an increase in the age that defines who is a juvenile in the eyes of the law.
The bill, signed in 2016 by then-governor Nikki Haley, amends a section of South Carolina law within the jurisdiction of family court. The bill raises the juvenile age to 18 regarding delinquency cases.
Previously, teenagers were no longer considered juveniles at age 17.
When it was signed in 2016, the law was set then to take effect July 1, 2019, so long as the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has the funds needed for implementing it.
The Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed the law will go into effect July 1, but has not yet released specifics on how it will impact their current operations.
They released this statement by director Freddie Pough to FOX Carolina in response:
“Senate Bill 916 – commonly known as “Raise the Age” legislation – is set to go into effect July 1, 2019. This statute makes several changes to the Juvenile Justice Code in South Carolina. For the Department of Juvenile Justice, we see this as an opportunity to serve and empower a population of 17-year-olds who otherwise would’ve entered into the adult criminal justice system before reaching adulthood.
Raise the Age has been on the table for a few years, and as an agency, we understand its merits and have long viewed it as a positive step for juvenile justice in our state. As it stands now, South Carolina is one of only a few states left in the country that still automatically routes 17-year-olds through the adult criminal justice system. The passage of this bill is the first step in righting that wrong. Still, in order for this paradigm shift to work long-term, further measures are needed to ensure the stability of the juvenile justice system and DJJ’s role within it.
As a result of S.916, Senate President Peeler appointed a new Senate Select Committee at the behest of Senator Gerald Malloy, the author of the Raise the Age legislation. The committee is tasked with helping DJJ and other impacted state agencies with developing a responsible, sustainable implementation plan. Our goal in working with the committee, led by Senators Malloy and Martin, is to build on the experience of other states across the country that successfully expanded family court jurisdiction by combining “Raise the Age” implementation with research-based reform to the juvenile justice system overall.
We are also working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to further our juvenile justice and detention reform efforts. Housing is a concern, as we do anticipate an overall increase in population at our secure facilities, not to mention added caseloads for community staff. We’re taking into consideration several factors, including: lower average daily populations during summer months, safe staff-youth ratios, and the realization that this will have a gradual and incremental effect on DJJ. With those considerations in mind, we do not anticipate an influx of 17-year-olds into our care on July 1st. We’re optimistic the collaborative efforts of our legislators, DJJ, sister agencies and the community will usher in a new era for juvenile justice in South Carolina.
As Director of DJJ, I am responsible for overseeing one of this state’s primary child-serving agencies and I do that with great pride. My team is, and will continue to be, motivated by the best interests of the young people we receive, regardless of age. We work to provide first-class, specialized educational and rehabilitative services to every single youth under our care and supervision. That will not change come July 1st.”
You can read through the bill in its entirety below: