We commend the Missouri Senate for recently voting 31-0 on a bill that would raise the age of teens covered by the juvenile system to 18.
Currently, state law states those 17 or older and accused of a crime must be handled in the adult criminal justice system.
Missouri is one of five states that still considers 17-year-olds as adults in criminal court.
We've advocated for the change previously, and the General Assembly has considered, but failed to pass, legislation to accomplish this in past years.
We're glad to see that this year, it seems to have more support than in previous years.
The change "would reduce the number of youth in the adult criminal justice system," sponsor Wayne Wallingford said, according to the Associated Press. "It saves our vulnerable youth, it makes our state safer and also saves taxpayer dollars in the long run."
He noted 45 states already have raised their age to 18, while Missouri and four other states are dealing with the issue this year.
The bill would not preclude courts from certifying juveniles to stand trial as adults, as the law already allows. That law has been used numerous times in Mid-Missouri courts, with perhaps the most well-known case in 2009, when Alyssa Bustamante, who was 15 at the time, killed 9-year-old Elizabeth Olten.
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 ability to find employment after being released from prison.
Wallingford, as well as the Missouri Department of Corrections, expects an overall cost savings, if the bill becomes law. While more of a cost burden would be put on the juvenile court system, DOC would save money through fewer inmates and people on probation.
However, the measure isn't about money, it's about doing what's right. We urge the House to pass the measure and the governor to sign it.