Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For Young People in Trouble, Let's Order Up Change

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

For Young People in Trouble, Let's Order Up Change

Article excerpt

Imagine that we were as rational about our government as we are about our restaurants. If you choose an eatery that serves you horrible food, you do not return. But when it comes to the people's business, we are far too lax about demanding that we get what we pay for.

Take Missouri's practice of trying and incarcerating 17-year- olds as adults even for the most minor of charges. Missouri is one of only seven states that push every 17-year-old into criminal court. They can't vote, serve on juries, or buy cigarettes but if they're accused of any offense, even a nonviolent misdemeanor, they're automatically arrested, jailed and prosecuted as adults. Nearly every other state, including every state that borders Missouri, has already responded to a wealth of research showing that putting minors in the adult system leads to repeat crime and a host of other bad outcomes.

Now, there are two bills in the Legislature both filed by conservative Republicans to raise the age and keep most 17-year- olds in juvenile court. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard powerful testimony on SB40, which highlighted the success of the juvenile system in turning young lives around.

Indeed, Missouri has more reason to embrace reform than most states. Recidivism among people leaving the state's adult prisons is three times higher than recidivism out of our juvenile facilities. The juvenile justice system is better than the adult system at holding kids accountable and getting them on the right track. Keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile system will reduce crime in our neighborhoods while increasing the chances that these young people will finish high school and go on to be productive members of our communities.

We've got two options. One works; one does not. Why do we keep going back to the one that has proven to fail?

Treating kids as adults freezes out families. When a 17-year-old is arrested, police are under no obligation to call their parents, because only in this one area does the law classify this high school junior or senior as an adult. If a 17-year-old goes to a party that gets out of hand, who is best-equipped to handle that situation a parent or a government employee? …

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