Juvenile justice discussion

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COLUMBIA - A bill that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 years old is currently in committee at the state legislature. MU's School of Social Work hosted a discussion Tuesday night about the impact the bill would have on the state.

Right now, 17 year olds in Missouri are prosecuted as adults in court for any offense. Missouri is one of just five states in which the age to try someone as an adult is 17. Michigan, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin are the others.

Missouri currently has dual jurisdiction for offenders under the age of 17 and a half. This means if they're found guilty in adult court, they can complete a juvenile sentence in a Division of Youth Services facility.

The bill says children are required to be prosecuted in juvenile courts, unless they're certified as adults. If that's the case, they're eligible for dual jurisdiction. 

Panelists at Tuesday's discussion said Missouri's model for its juvenile system is one other states try to copy. 

"The detention part of the system has a staff to child ratio of ten to one," said Brian Evans, state campaigns director of Campaign for Youth Justice. "There's lots of teaching and lots of accountability, as opposed to big giant prison-like facilities seen in other states." 

Campaign for Youth is a national organization based out of Washington D.C. that works to get young people out of the adult system across the country. In the last two years, it helped change laws in four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, New York and Louisiana. 

Evans said 17 year olds were tried as adults in many states because of laws passed in the late 80s and early 90s to counter high crime rates. 

Missouri's juvenile system uses something called five domains of well being.

"They look at a child, they look at the services and need of the child, as well as the family, then they provide those services," said Sarah Johnson, director of juvenile defense and policy for the Missouri Public Defender System. "They give kids a shot at a high school diploma, and even college credit."

The system also provides therapeutic services, which includes individual and family counseling. 

"The juvenile system just gets them back on track in a way the adult system doesn't," said social work professor Clark Peters. "We understand now that young people's brains and developmental pathways are on an upward trajectory. We're going to try to align policy with practice." 

The same bill failed to pass last legislative session. 

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