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Georgia House votes to bump adult criminal age from 17 to 18

March 9, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s House approved a measure Monday that would raise the age for charging most people from 17 to 18.

The House voted 113-51 to pass House Bill 272, sending it to the Senate for more debate.

House Juvenile Justice Committee Chairman Mandi Ballinger, a Canton Republican, has been pushing the idea for years. She cites testimony from experts that teen’s brains are still developing to full adulthood and they lack the impulse control that older people usually develop.

“We’re one of three states with this horribly antiquated practice of treating 17-year-olds like grownups,” Ballinger told the House.

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Advocates say 17-year-olds should go before juvenile courts, where judges can decide cases while promoting growth without giving them a permanent criminal record.

“They’re much less likely to reoffend,” Ballinger said.

People who are 17 would still be charged as adults for certain violent crimes including murder, rape, child molestation and armed robbery with a gun — as teens 13 to 16 already are in Georgia. Gang crimes also would bring adult charges for 17-year-olds, although not for younger children. Prosecutors could decide to send charges down to juvenile court.

Texas and Wisconsin are the only other states to cap juvenile court jurisdiction at age 16, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven other states have raised the age to 17 in the last decade and a half, with Missouri and Michigan doing so this year.

The Georgia Sheriff’s Association has voiced opposition to the measure, but Ballinger said statistics show that fewer than 50 17-year-olds are arrested each year in three quarters of the state’s 159 counties.

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver told House members last year that the state would need new juvenile centers to house 17-year-olds. However, advocates question that claim, noting the department is already closing long-term detention centers because fewer young people are under its care. Arrests and resulting costs have gone down in states that have started directing 17-year-olds to juvenile court.