Missouri is one of five states that prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter the offense. There’s an effort to change that in the Show-Me State to where 17-year-olds would instead go through the juvenile justice system as kids.
The Justice Policy Institute, an organization that advocates for raising the age to 18 nationwide, says the change is needed to keep young people safe.
Jeree Thomas is policy director with the Washington, D.C. based Campaign for Youth Justice.
“Young people who end up in adult jails and prisons are more likely to commit suicide. They’re more likely to experience educational deprivation, as well as treatment deprivation. They’re more likely to be placed in solitary confinement because there are federal laws that encourage the sight and sound separation of young people from adults when they’re in adult prisons,” Thomas said.
Young people behind bars in adult facilities are also the age group most at risk of sexual assault, according to a federal commission that investigated rape in prison.
Opponents say it would be too expensive and a strain on the juvenile system to absorb 17-year-olds.
Thomas says the state ultimately saves money by trying young people as kids, because they’re much less likely to reoffend.
She and others will be working with Missouri lawmakers again this coming year try to pass legislation raising the age to 18. Last year, Louisiana and South Carolina both raised the age with bipartisan support.
Supporters of raising the age of adult prosecution in Missouri to 18 will hold an informational event on December 5 at the Plaster Student Union Theater on the Missouri State University Campus. That event begins at 4:00 PM.