Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) is asking lawmakers for $18 million in next year’s budget to keep most 17-year-olds out of adult jails.
Lawmakers approved a bill making that a policy in 2018, and the law technically went into effect on Jan. 1, but never ponied up any money to cover the cost, so most judicial circuits have continued to automatically treat 17-year-olds as adults, trying them in adult criminal courts.
Experts say research has shown that 17-year-olds generally are neurologically incapable of fully controlling their impulses and should not be treated like adults for that reason. Moreover, their brains remain pliable at that age, and teens can, with appropriate treatment and support, mature into law-abiding adults, experts say.
Juvenile incarceration is much more focused on rehabilitation, and less punitive, than adult lockups.
Lawmakers apparently agreed with those experts because they passed the law in 2018, but they never appropriated the money to back it up.
Legislators said they noted Parson’s request in budget documents this week as they dug into the details of next year’s spending plan, which goes into effect July 1. The Republican governor’s $18 million request would allow the state to hire 138 workers to implement the so-called Raise the Age law.
In approving the law, Missouri joined the great majority of states that have raised the age of routine criminal prosecution in adult court to 18. Michigan raised the age in 2019, leaving only three states with a cutoff at 17: Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin.
All three of those states had legislation proposed that would make the leap to age 18, though the push in Georgia died for the year last week.
An analysis of quality research on the issue of handling juvenile offenders in the adult system, conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the overwhelming majority of studies indicate it is associated with more future criminal behavior.