If you're 17 in Missouri, you're not considered an adult. You can't vote, serve on a jury or buy cigarettes. However, if you're charged with a crime, you're automatically tried as an adult.
We believe that's wrong. Missouri is one of several states that treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal-justice system.
During the past decade, our Legislature has considered, but failed to pass, legislation that would raise the age to 18.
Supporters in the Legislature will try again in 2018. Legislation has been prefiled in the House and Senate that would make 18 the age at which criminal defendants are tried as adults.
As the law stands now, parents have no right to be notified if their 17-year-old is charged with a crime, and they have no right to be involved in the court case.
The bills 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.
The Missouri Department of Corrections estimates it will save $14 million a year, if the legislation is implemented. That's because it would reduce the number of admissions into the correctional system by 306 and reduce the number on probation by 474.
Some of that money would have to be spent on increased funding for the juvenile system, but we believe an overall savings for the state could be achieved.
A cost savings would be icing on the cake, but the measure should be passed because it's the right thing to do.
We hope lawmakers in 2018 pass one of the bills to raise the age to 18, to be tried as an adult. (HB274, HB430, SB40).