Missouri would join a majority of U.S. states in raising the age someone can be tried as an adult in court to 18 under a bill passed by the legislature this session.
Currently, 17- year- olds are considered adults. The measure, which the Senate passed Thursday, raises the age to 18, except for egregious crimes like first-degree murder. Missouri is one of only five states that had yet to raise the age limit.
The bill sponsor, GOP Sen. Wayne Wallingford of Cape Girardeau, said the change allows teenagers to finish high school and reduce the chance that he or she would commit another crime in the future.
“Our juvenile system has access to therapy and rehabilitation and it puts the youth back on a path of doing the right thing,” Wallingford said.
Some legislators had been concerned that upping the age would overburden the state’s juvenile corrections system.
But Wallingford argued that Missouri would save money by keeping people out of prison. Missouri spends hundreds of millions of dollars on inmates each year. For example, in 2011, then-corrections department budget director Joseph Eddy told Missourinet it costs nearly $6,000 to incarcerate one person for a year — and that doesn't account for administrative costs, prison personnel and utilities.
The rate of juveniles arrested for any crime in the U.S. declined 70 percent between 1996 and 2016, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Plus, Wallingford said, keeping teenagers out of prison gives them a chance to continue their education.
“And then, they’re also working and paying taxes so it saves taxpayer dollars because they’re income producing citizens so it’s a win all the way around,” Wallingsford said.
His bill also creates a Juvenile Justice Preservation fund, which puts a $2 surcharge on traffic violations and a $3.50 surcharge on civil lawsuits filed in Missouri.
Wallingford says he’s “100 percent confident” the governor will sign the bill into law. If that happens, the provisions will take effect January 1, 2021.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.