Scott asks lawmakers to delay ‘Raise the Age’ juvenile offender law

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 6:53 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 7:06 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott is asking lawmakers to once again hold off on raising the age of adulthood for criminal offenders.

“Raise the Age” is a reform bill passed in 2018 that aims to keep offenders up to 22 years old in family court, where their cases are confidential and penalties do not include prison time. It’s based on emerging science that brain development isn’t complete until well into someone’s 20s and that mistakes earlier in life should not permanently hobble future opportunities.

The law was supposed to be implemented last year -- first raising the age to 19, then the next year to 20, and the following year to 21 -- but lawmakers agreed to push back the start to give the state more time to open a secure facility for youthful offenders, something that still hasn’t happened.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office confirmed that they will again be asking the Legislature to delay the measure an additional three years. A spokesperson for the governor says the state still needs a secure facility for the detention of violent youth as well as improved rehabilitation programs. They add that the state also lacks staffing to administer those programs. The governor’s team plans to present their formal proposal to lawmakers Thursday.

Senator Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, admits the system is facing challenges but he says a three-year delay is too much. “With any new law, there are times when we want to look back, make some adjustments and so forth. But for 99% of the kids that will be involved when Raise the Age takes effect for the new age group, it is working fine,” he

The need for a new juvenile facility comes after the state decided to close the Woodside Juvenile Detention Facility in Essex in 2020. The fight over a replacement facility in Newbury is heading to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are working on a new bill calling for teenagers charged with gun crimes to be charged in adult court. It’s aimed at stemming some of the gun violence we’ve seen in communities across the state.

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