Rev. Bella M. Winters

As an educator and as an activist with the Metropolitan Congregations United Juvenile Task Force, I have witnessed the atrocities in education and the community at large that do not favor the immaturity of children’s brain development at such a young age as 14. Moreover, children of color are disproportionally represented in our Department of Justice penal and social system due to systemic racism in sentencing. 

I was extremely disappointed to learn that Gov. Parson signed Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 600 (SB 600) into law. The fiscal note for this bill says this will cause a “potential increase in prison population of over 2,500 prisoners” by Fiscal Year 2038. At minimum this will cost $16 million per year, but the cost could rise to over half a billion if new prisons are built. 

Now in Special Session, some are pushing for more “tough on crime” laws, even though we have decades of research to prove that such approaches do not work. The Justice Reinvestment Task Force in Missouri has laid out ways to reduce recidivism, repair harm, stop first-time offenses, and build trust by supporting communities heavily impacted by crime and incarceration. Please return to that path. 

It especially abhorrent to me that juveniles would ever be certified to stand trial or be incarcerated as adults. The outcomes of this in the past show us that this is a mistake.

Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities. Children are two times more likely to be beaten by staff in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities. Children incarcerated with adults are five times more likely to commit suicide than those who remain in the juvenile system. Missouri court data in 2017 showed that Black children were almost six times more likely to be certified as adults than white children. 

Missouri legislators must refrain from passing legislation that will exacerbate the already stark racial disparities in our justice system. Expanding juvenile certification will also harm public safety. Children prosecuted as adults – traumatized and denied the educational and rehabilitative services available in the juvenile system – have a 34% higher recidivism rate than those who remain in the juvenile system. 

Senate Bill 1 must not be passed if it includes certification of children to be tried or sentenced as adults. 

Testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Monday, August 10.

 

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