A proposal to change state law so 17-year-olds won't automatically be charged as adults not only means cost savings to the state, but also a second chance for the youth, advocates of "Raise the Age" legislation said Friday.
Under current state law, a person can automatically be charged as an adult at age 17, but legislation sponsored by state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O-Fallon, would allow the teenager to start his or her sentence in the juvenile justice system among peers.
The legislation won't interfere with the court's ability to certify a juvenile to be charged as an adult for any heinous crime.
"We're wasting our youth," said Cathy Rauch, a member of the Juvenile Justice task force at the Metropolitan Congregations United in St. Louis. "All people have a chance of redemption, and all children should have another chance to redeem themselves."
Schroer pre-filed the bill Friday to be heard during the next legislative session. Friday was the first day bills could be filed for the upcoming 2018 legislative session.
Should the bill be fully implemented, Schroer said, the Department of Corrections has indicated it could potentially save the state an average of $14 million per year. If the bill passes, it would be phased in over a three-year period. By not having to provide segregated housing and services to 17-year-olds, which is required by federal law, DOC would save money.
"It's more of a true fiscal note than what we have had in the past because what we didn't factor in was the re-offender rate or how much money we can save taxpayers by having less people cycle through the system," Schroer said. Under the current structure, he explained, taxpayers are paying for their housing, food and attorney fees.
So far, he said, he has received support from both sides of the aisle in the House as well as third-party interest groups such as American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and Show-Me Institute.
"I don't know where this bill is going to land on the priority list this year, but our floor leader is very interested in it," Schroer said. "I'm hopeful that with the support we had last year we can get it out of committee and then on to some Senate bills at least."