Researcher says juvenile sentencing bill still too harsh

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COLUMBIA - The Missouri Senate passed a bill Tuesday reducing mandatory sentences which currently require life in prison for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

The bill mandates new minimum sentences of 35 years for minors under 16 and 50 years for minors between the ages of 16 and 18.

MU social work professor Clark Peters, who researches juvenile justice issues, said the bill is a step in the right direction, but is still too harsh. He said long sentences deny juveniles the opportunity to start over.

"Our justice system is based on second chances," Peters said. "And that's especially true with juveniles."

Peters said juveniles are not able to fully understand the consequences of their actions, as their brains have not fully developed. He said long prison sentences will not help rehabilitate youth offenders.

"I don't want to diminish how important it is for young people to be held accountable for their crimes," Peters said. "But we need to take a broader perspective."

Ultimately, Peters said, it's about not giving up on minors.

"If one of my children had the misfortune of doing something terrible, then I would understand that they need to be held accountable," Peters said. "But I would want them to be in a place where they could turn things around, reflect on what they need to do and not have society give up on them."

KOMU 8 News reached out to Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield), who sponsored the bill, but his office staff said he was on the floor and unavailable for comment at that time.