The Missouri General Assembly has voted to increase the age for trying youth as adults from 17 to 18.
The legislation now heads to Gov. Eric Greitens for his signature.
“This is a good day for Missouri, and for 17-year-olds,” Mike Hoey, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), stated. “Our juvenile justice system is better at holding kids accountable and getting them on the right track.”
Known as “Raise the Age,” the bill paves the way for criminal cases against youth who are under the age of 18 to begin in the juvenile court system.
Missouri is one of only five states that still excludes all 17-year-olds from the juvenile justice system.
In Missouri, 17-year- olds can’t vote, serve on juries, join the military or buy a lottery ticket. Yet, kids are automatically charged, jailed and imprisoned as adults the day they turn 17, even if their offenses are non-violent or misdemeanors.
The passage of “Raise the Age” legislation changes that, allowing 17-year-olds to remain in the juvenile justice system.
Youth who are accused of serious crimes can still be prosecuted as adults.
The MCC wishes to thank state Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) and state Rep. Nick Schroer (R-St. Charles) for their leadership in sponsoring the legislation and guiding it through the legislative process.
“All the studies show adult jails are no place for our teenagers,” Sen. Wallingford stated. “With help and guidance, they can turn things around.”
Opportunities vanish for 17-year-olds who are treated like adults in the justice system. A criminal record creates barriers to education, employment, housing and joining the military.
A recent study conducted by R. David Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Economic Research at Missouri State University, noted that the economic benefits of keeping a 17-year-old out of prison outweigh the costs of keeping him or her in the juvenile justice system.
Spending time in prison lowers a person’s “human capital” in the form of work experience and soft skills. Likewise, the person in prison has reduced earnings and subsequent reduced tax revenue to the state.
State Rep. Nick Schroer also recognized the positive change this bill will bring to Missouri and its residents.
“Today we took a stand for every Missourian, as Raise the Age has been shown to decrease crime, keep our state safer and save taxpayer dollars,” Rep. Schroer said. “This common sense criminal justice reform will undoubtedly help our state and I am happy I was part of making this happen.”
The MCC also thanks the members of its MOCAN citizen network for their dedication in answering timely alerts to keep the bill moving.
The MCC was a part of the Missouri Raise the Age Coalition that helped organize efforts to ensure Missouri’s youth will have the chance for a bright future.