- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri representative has proposed a bill requiring raising the age of people tried in court as adults to 18 years.

Republican state Rep. Wayne Wallingford’s proposed measure would require anyone under the age of 18 to be prosecuted in juvenile courts, with the exception of 16- or 17-year-olds who have been certified as adults.

Missouri is one of seven states that automatically prosecute 17-year-old defendants as adults, the Southeast Missourian (https://bit.ly/2ktdL8F ) reported. Under current law, juveniles between 12 and 17 years old who have been charged with a felony can also be tried as an adult.

Wallingford said that dealing with those teenagers in juvenile court lessens the chance for them to be re-offenders. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile system has proven a reduction of re-offenders by up to 34 percent.

“I am not being soft on crime. I am being smart on crime,” Wallingford said.

But two Southeast Missouri juvenile officers, Randy Rhodes and Kevin Hess, said the bill doesn’t include additional state funding to hire more juvenile officers. Rhodes said without more funding, “we will have to cut other services” to be able to handle more 17-year-old offenders as juveniles.

Hess said a state analysis shows his circuit already is in need of another seven or eight juvenile officers to handle the current workload. Rhodes said he only has eight officers when the state analysis calls for 18.

Tracy McClard, who leads advocacy group Raise the Age Missouri, is in full support of Wallingford’s legislation. McClard, whose 17-year-old son killed himself in prison in 2008, said juveniles that are incarcerated in adult jails are 36 times more likely to kill themselves than those in juvenile detention. She also said those teens face high risks of violence and sexual assault in prisons.

“No child should be thrown away,” she said. “It breaks your heart.”


Information from: Southeast Missourian, https://www.semissourian.com

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