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Effort underway to gain passage of ‘Raise the Age’

The Missouri Catholic Conference is among supporters of state legislation that would require children up to the age of 18 to be prosecuted for criminal offenses in juvenile court unless the child is certified as an adult.

Missouri is one of only five states that still automatically treats 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system no matter how minor the offense. When a 17-year-old is arrested, his or her parents have no rights to be notified or to participate in the child's case. The bills would not preclude courts from certifying juveniles to stand trial as adults for heinous or repeated offenses, as the law already allows.

Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, introduced a bill known as "Raise the Age" in the House (HB 1255) and Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, introduced a similar bill in the Senate (SB 793). Last year a "Raise the Age" bill passed the House, but didn't reach a vote in the Senate. Schroer, in a statement about the bill, stated it would save taxpayer dollars and also preserve parental rights.

A study authored by David M. Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Economic Research at Missouri State University, cited significant savings by raising the age to 18. The savings are due in part to reduced recidivism from keeping young people out of the adult system and to increased earning (and taxpaying) potential of 17-year-olds kept in the juvenile system. In 2017, the Department of Corrections estimated it would save $14 million if the age level was raised.

The Missouri Catholic Conference supports the bills, pointing out that in their 2000 statement, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice," the U.S. bishops stated: "We bishops cannot support policies that treat young offenders as though they are adults ... society must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are adults — fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions. Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution."

Helen Sloan, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in St. Louis, was part of a group of St. Louisans from Metropolitan Congregations United who recently visited legislators in Jefferson City, Mo., to lobby on behalf of the proposed legislation. In society, she said, 17-year-olds are treated as juveniles except in the area of criminal justice. "They can't vote, they can't drink, they can't borrow money, but in this one instance they're treated as an adult," she said. "With our children, when they make mistakes we need to help them correct those mistakes and not just dismiss them and punish them."

A Missouri group called Raise the Age is one of the organizations pushing for the legislation. It argues youths jailed with adults are more susceptible to assaults, solitary confinement and suicide. An adult conviction can limit the opportunities for rehabilitation and can lead to a lifetime of negative consequences, such as the inability to find employment after being released from prison, the group adds.

In the adult justice system, approximately 77 percent of released prisoners will reoffend within five years, according to a recent study ("Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010," by Durose, Cooper, and Snyder, 2016). The recidivism rate of the youth placed into youth correctional facilities studied was only 15 percent ("Predictors of Recidivism for Juvenile Delinquents after the Treatment in the Disciplinary Centre," by Kovacevic 2015). 

'Raise the Age'

An effort is underway in Missouri to increases the age that a person can be automatically criminally charged as an adult from 17 to 18 years of age.

The sponsor of House Bill 1255, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, said that increasing that age to 18 would save money by reducing recidivism; allow more offenders to use the resources of the juvenile justice system to hold them accountable and rehabilitate them; and strengthen Missouri's workforce and economy by keeping 17 year-olds from having criminal records.

For information or to contact legislators, visit:

• Missouri Raise the Age Coalition, www.raisetheage.com.

• Missouri Catholic Conference, www.stlouisreview.com/jUU. 

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