If your 17-year-old is convicted of a crime — any crime — he or she will be tried as an adult.
That means that if jail time is a consequence of the crime, that time would likely be served in a jail or prison with other adults.
Missouri is one of only 5 states in the country that automatically prosecutes a 17-year-old in the same system with full-grown adults.
We think that must change.
A vote taken this past week in the Missouri Senate makes us hopeful that there is a change coming.
All 31 senators voted to raise the legal age for adult status in criminal court cases to 18. The legislation — Senate Bill 793 — still has to go to the House, so it's unclear as to whether it will pass there.
Eighteen is already the law of the land for most of the United States. And some significant strides were made in 2016.
The states of South Carolina and Louisiana passed laws to raise the age of adult court jurisdiction to 18. The states of Vermont and California both ended the practice of allowing prosecutors, without judicial review, to “direct file” juveniles into adult court. Indiana will now allow some youth charged as adults to transfer back into the juvenile system, and a law in Arizona will keep some kids charged as adults out of adult jails while they await their trials. And Washington, D.C., included removing youth from adult jails in its Comprehensive Youth Justice Amendment Act of 2016.
If the bill does pass, it doesn't mean that a 17-year-old couldn't still be charged as an adult for serious crimes. A judge would have to certify the teen to be tried as an adult. That's a system that is already in place for younger defendants, starting at age 12. Southwest Missouri has seen a number of youth certified to stand trial as adults in recent years.
Sen. Wayne Wallingford, a Republican from Cape Girardeau, introduced the bill. He is pushing it because it gives teens accused access to education and rehabilitation in the juvenile system. It also keeps them away from potential abuse that is common in jails and prisons.
The Department of Corrections admitted 301 17-year-olds in the 2017 fiscal year. Of those teens, 262 — 87 percent — were charged with nonviolent crimes.
Our jails and prisons are overcrowded. Sending a 17-year-old to serve out a shoplifting sentence in a place where violent offenders are incarcerated makes no sense to us.
We implore our legislators in the House to raise the legal age for adult status in our courts system.