Legislation requiring children under the age of 18 to be prosecuted for most criminal offenses in juvenile court has been filed by a Missouri lawmaker.
State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, has filed the bill, which is called “Raise the Age.”
The O’Fallon Republican tells the Capitol Press Corps that Missouri is one of only five states that currently prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of the crime.
“In the state of Missouri, you have to be 18 to enter into a contract without parental consent,” Schroer says. “You have to be 18 to buy cigarettes, you have to be 18 to join the military, buy a lottery ticket or even vote.”
Schroer says 17-year-olds charged with minor offenses do not belong in adult jails and prisons, saying they face high risks of violence and sexual assault.
Schroer, an attorney, says Missouri’s juvenile justice system is better equipped than state prisons to hold 17-year-olds accountable and get them on the right track.
“People leaving adult incarceration facilities are three times more likely to re-offend than those leaving the juvenile facilities,” says Schroer.
Schroer’s “Raise the Age” bill would still allow for adult certification for cases like murder, rape and kidnapping.
That was a key point raised during a September Statehouse hearing by Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson, who testified on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA).
Schroer says the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) would save $14 million annually, under his bill.
In addition to reporters, the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association was also in the audience at Schroer’s Friday news conference.
Association Executive Director Marcia Hazelhorst spoke to Missourinet on the phone Friday and issued a statement about the proposal.
“Missouri Juvenile Justice Association supports raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age eighteen as long as the resources and funding are allocated to ensure that all youth continue to receive the high standard of care, treatment and supervision provided by the Missouri Juvenile Justice System. Missouri Juvenile and Family Courts as well as Missouri Division of Youth Services will need additional resources, including treatment and program dollars and – in some jurisdictions- additional staff. To pass this legislation with no additional funding will have unintended consequences such as potentially increasing the number of youth certified as adults or committed to the Division of Youth Services; higher supervision caseloads; existing resources and treatment dollars will be stretched thin and result in less services being provided to youth and treatment stays will be shortened,” Hazelhorst’s statement says.
Missouri’s 2018 legislative session begins January 3. Friday was the first day for lawmakers to pre-file bills for 2018.