The Missouri Senate voted to Raise the Age (with SB 793) earlier this year, and on May 7 the state House passed this juvenile justice reform. The bill, introduced by state Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau), is currently headed back to the Senate for more tightening and tweaking.
Missouri is still 1 of 5 that hasn’t passed Raise the Age legislation. Under current law, children between the ages of 12 and 17 who are alleged to have committed certain offenses can be prosecuted in a court of general jurisdiction, rather than in juvenile court. When SB 793 is made into law (and implemented January 1, 2021), the age range will be between 12 and 18 years.
“Once I get (the) Senate’s version, we will become (the) 46th state to pass Raise the Age,” tweeted state Rep. Nicholas Schroer (R-O’Fallon), the sponsor for HB 1255, a similar bill.
State after state has proven that this type of juvenile justice reform certainly can help keep our juveniles from becoming repeat offenders and out of the criminal justice system. Research has shown us that kids aren’t able to assess risks and consequences like adults would. Raising the age would help to recreate a social environ that rehabilitates our youngsters instead of subjecting them to adult prisons.
The funding mechanism seemed to have been the biggest hurdle, as elected officials haggled over the bill’s fiscal note for at least a year. According to David M. Mitchell, a professor of economics and the director of the Bureau of Economic Research at Missouri State University, the Missouri legislation makes “dollars and sense.”
Mitchell researched the economic consequences of having a 17-year-old sentenced in adult courts versus in juvenile courts. He established a cost estimate determining that 17-year-old offenders will earn significantly less (reduced future lifetime earnings) than those who do not go to prison, a component that in turn impacts communities long-term. Because offenders earn less over a lifetime, they pay significantly less in taxes. Society misses out on a half-million cost benefit because the juvenile never had the opportunity to pay those taxes. Mitchell further calculated the combined cost of housing individual offenders in an adult facility and unpaid tax contributions; the cost to society tallies to almost $512,000 per criminal.
According to Missouri’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, in 2015 the vast majority of 17-year olds were arrested for property offenses like possession of marijuana (1,020 arrests) and larceny (1,355 arrests). Their criminal records for low-level offenses could affect their ability to go to college, get a job or find housing. Nationally, youth held in adult jails are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile detention facilities. Moreover, according to a recent study by Human Impact Partners, youth prosecuted as adults are 34 percent more likely to reoffend after leaving the adult system.
Session ends May 18. Contact your elected officials to support Raise the Age immediately.
jusTizz is the literary pseudonym of Israel Collier, a St. Louis humanitarian.