Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Lawmakers Renew Push to Try 17-Year-Olds in Juvenile Court

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Missouri Lawmakers Renew Push to Try 17-Year-Olds in Juvenile Court

Article excerpt

JEFFERSON CITY * A proposal to raise the age at which young offenders can be tried in Missouri's adult court system to 18 is garnering bipartisan support, but juvenile officers want to be sure the state can pay for what many acknowledge would be a positive change.

While 17-year-olds can't vote, buy a pack of cigarettes, sit on a jury or join the military, under Missouri state law, they can be tried in an adult court if they commit a crime.

"I call them children," Rep. Nick Schroer, an O'Fallon Republican sponsoring a House version of the "raise the age" bill, told a legislative panel on Tuesday. "It's time Missouri has a serious conversation about how to address this."

Similar measures have been introduced in years past, but they have stalled. If the bill is approved and signed into law this year, Missouri would join 43 other states that have raised the age, as research continues to emerge showing the human brain isn't fully developed by age 17.

"We are an outlier. We are behind the times and seen as problematic because we allow all 17-year-olds to be automatically treated as adults," Mae Quinn, director of the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch. "Unfortunately, in years past some of the greatest opposition to raising the age in Missouri has come from the very people who claim they're looking out for the children in our courts."

Marcia Hazelhorst, executive director of the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association, said juvenile officers found themselves in an awkward position in the ongoing debate.

"We have always supported the concept of raising the age and believe that's good for kids," she said in an interview. "The piece that we have basically just made legislators aware of is the need for appropriate resources and funding."

Schroer's bill is not subject to appropriation from the Legislature. A similar measure from Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains, would be contingent on that funding for the state.

Without appropriation, the change could lead to an influx of offenders into a juvenile system not currently equipped for them, Hazelhorst said.

"We can't agree on what it will actually cost," she told lawmakers on Tuesday. …

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