FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bills would make Missouri a National Leader in
Keeping Youth Out of Adult Courts, Jails, and Prisons
Jefferson City, MO (December 1, 2016)- The Coalition of Families and Friends Organizing to Reform Juvenile Justice in Missouri (FORJ) applauds Senator Wallingford and Representative Swan for pre-filing bills that would make Missouri a national leader in keeping vulnerable youth out of adult courts, jails, and prisons.
These bills will raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in Missouri from 17-years old to 18-years old and limit the age and types of offenses for which a youth can be tried and treated as an adult. Missouri is one of only seven states left in the country that still automatically treats 17-year olds as adults without any legislation passed to raise the age. This bill would move Missouri’s juvenile justice system forward by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, raising the age at which a child can be transferred or certified to the adult system from 12 years old to 16 years old, and putting forward a national model for keeping youth out of the adult criminal justice system except for the most serious offenses.
“These bills will have a significant impact on Missouri’s youth if they’re passed,” according to Tracy McClard, the founder of FORJ Missouri. “I don’t know a parent in the world or any adult for that matter who believes that a 12, 13, 14, or 15-year old is equivalent to an adult in any other circumstance. There is a reason why we require kids to go to school until a certain age, wait to vote, get a driver’s license, drink, and get married until a certain age. It’s because it’s just common sense that children aren’t prepared for adult realities.”
Research also supports that kids are different when it comes to their impulse control and decision making skills. For over a decade, there has been overwhelming scientific evidence on adolescent brain development that confirms that the brains of children, youth, and even young adults are not fully developed and are not equipped to make and process decisions like adults. The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed this in a number of cases around juvenile life without parole and states like South Carolina and Louisiana have passed bills to raise their age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that 17-year olds can be treated as youth.
“These bills are grounded in what we know about the impact of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth as adults,” according to Jeree Thomas, Policy Director at the Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington, D.C. “ We know that youth who are treated as adults are more likely to commit suicide, experience physical and sexual abuse, and reoffend once they return home. We also know the juvenile justice system is equipped to handle the vast majority of 17 year olds, who are arrested for non-serious, low-level offenses and provide them with services necessary to get them back on track. Limiting the transfer of youth into the adult system will make Missouri safer.”
On December 1st at 10am, youth, families, state and national advocates will hold a press conference at Avenue HQ to discuss the impact of these bills on Missouri’s youth, communities, and public safety. These bills will be considered during the 2017 Session of the Legislature starting in January.
Families and Friends Organized to Reform Juvenile Justice (FORJ)
Dedicated to ending the practice of placing children and youth under the age of 18 in Missouri's adult criminal justice system and providing all children involved in Missouri's criminal justice system the necessary rehabilitation needed to become productive members of society by engaging and empowering families and allies of these children. Find us on Facebook.
Did you know? In the state of Missouri:
- Children in the justice system are considered adults at age 17
- Children as young as 12 can be tried in adult court (certified as adults)
- Upon certification, children are placed in adult jails until their sentencing hearing
- Once a child is arrested parents lose all control of that child.
- Upon certification, children in adult jails do not receive rehabilitative services or education
- There is no recourse to keep your child safe once placed in an adult prison or jail
FORJ-MO helps to organize and empower families and allies most affected by the current juvenile justice practices to advocate for policy reform on the state and federal level.