Starting Monday, July 1, teens in South Carolina have one more year in the juvenile system. Before now, 17 was considered an adult in the Palmetto State, but a law passed in 2016 changes that.
“Kids need more time for their brains to develop and for us to expect them to make reasonable decisions,” says Captain Maryann Burgess who leads the Youth Services Division of the Aiken Department of Public Safety.
Captain Burgess says the Youth Services Division expects about a 30% increase in workload.
“It’s a smart move because we all know the studies on brain development. Our brains aren’t fully developed until we’re in our mid-20s and so a lot of the research went into that legislation nationwide,” Captain Burgess says.
They have watched other states make a relatively seamless transition, which they anticipate even though their unsure of the specifics.
“I believe that we’re going to need more personnel,” Captain Burgess says. “It affects not only law enforcement, but Department of Juvenile Justice, many community resources so everyone is going to need a little more funding. As to how much, I think this year will be a good year to show what our anticipated needs will be.”
The Raise the Age law passed in 2016 without a boost to funding.
“All of the agencies are going to have to absorb it and I think we are all committed,” Captain Burgess says. “We’ve had several community meetings of all the stakeholders here in Aiken County so I think we are all ready to push forward and make this happen and work together to share those resources and get the job done.”
Most people support the change, but there has been some mixed reaction.
“There is one camp of the public that says, we need to hold especially 17 year olds, let’s hold them accountable,” Captain Burgess explains. “Then there are the other camps that understand that these are still kids, bottom line, they are still children and having that extra year to mature and develop and give them resources to become a productive member of society I think is only beneficial for everybody.”
She says the extra year for teens to be treated as kids, has the potential to make a big difference.
“Especially in that gray area that we always struggled with when 17 year olds left home. We now have some legal remedies so we look forward to helping close that gap with regard to the 17 year old population,” Captain Burgess says.
The change puts South Carolina in line with the rest of the country since only a few states still consider 17 an adult.