Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Young Offenders Have Close Brush with Laws

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Young Offenders Have Close Brush with Laws

Article excerpt

In high-topped sneakers, hooded sweat shirts and pressed jeans, they looked like just another school group touring the Missouri Capitol. They were even more clean-cut, since most of them sported new haircuts.

But the 33 youths who hobnobbed with state legislators Wednesday included burglars, armed robbers, car thieves, drug dealers and sex offenders.

The state Division of Youth Services brought the youths to show how laws are made. As they learned, they also lobbied.

"If I stop selling dope, can I get a job?" asked a 15-year-old youth sent to Missouri Hills for tampering. "You're talking about opening our records up. If you do that, it would make it harder for me to get a good job."

Another 15-year-old - in custody for truancy and possessing marijuana - said schools weren't doing enough to keep students interested.

"They should provide us with more hands-on training instead of just making us sit in class," he said. "We should be able to learn a skill and then go out and build something like a recreation center, and get paid for it."

The Legislature holds a special interest these days for youths in state custody. At least four dozen bills on juvenile crime are pending.

Some bills would require that youths as young as 12 be sent to the penitentiary for certain felonies. Others would expand recreation and jobs as alternatives to gangs.

Rep. Steven R. Carroll, D-Hannibal, was the youths' host Wednesday. He is sponsoring a bill that would toughen penalties for crimes committed by juveniles and set up a fund to improve programs for young offenders. A House committee approved the bill Tuesday.

"I know you think that politicians don't care about you," Carroll told the group over a lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans in the Capitol basement. "There are some of us who do. I think you've got a bright future ahead of you. …

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