CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - May 10, 2018
The Missouri Legislature has voted to raise the age at which suspects are automatically prosecuted as adults from 17 to 18.
The Senate approved the bill Thursday in a 32-1 vote, it now goes to the governor's desk.
It would add a $3.50 charge to all civil lawsuits to help the juvenile justice system absorb more people.
Youth charged with certain serious crimes could still be tried as adults. Currently, Missouri is one of five states to automatically try 17-year-olds in adult courts.
March 9, 2018
Missouri could soon try 17-year-olds criminals as juveniles.
Right now they're automatically tried in adult court, but a bill sponsored by Senator Wayne Wallingford could change that.
"I feel like they are much better served in the juvenile court system we have more services available that are geared towards rehabilitation or preventing this type of behavior as opposed to just admitting them to the department of corrections," said Diedra Ashley, Chief Juvenile Officer in the 34th Circuit.
She said, for the most part, she supports Senator Wallingford's bill to allow 17-year-olds to remain in the juvenile court.
"The purpose of my raise the age to 18 was to reduce the number of youth in the adult system, and I had three goals in mind," said Senator Wallingford in a phone interview.
He said those three goals are to save the youth, make Missouri safer and save taxpayer money.
Ashley said she believes 17-year-olds would benefit from being in the juvenile system but she's afraid the senator is overlooking some things.
"Number one is the effect that it's going to have on the juvenile offices who are already underfunded and understaffed," said Ashley. "We're not going to have the resources to give them the services and the attention that they need."
She's also concerned this change could affect schools, because right now in Missouri a child has the choice to quit attending school at 17, and she believes if this legislation passes the age could be moved to 18.
"And despite our best efforts sometimes we cannot convince these kids the value of an education and if you've got an older teenager and they've made up their mind they don't want to be in school forcing them to be there is going to cause disruptions, distractions for other students who do value their education," said Ashley.
Speaking of education, with 17-year-olds being put in the adult system, Senator Wallingford is afraid they are getting the wrong kind.
"I always say the prison system is a graduate school for learning more about criminality," said Wallingford
"The same concerns they have for sticking a 17-year-old in an adult facility I would have the same concerns for sticking a 10-year-old in with an 18-year-old," said Ashley.
If this bill is passed it will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2021.