Opinion: Juvenile Justice Gains Flexibility

News-Press Now

By Editorial Board

Here’s proof politics is not everything in Jefferson City:

In the closing days of the General Assembly an important change to our system of criminal justice was approved by overwhelming margins — 32-1 in the Senate and 139-4 in the House.

With Gov. Eric Greitens’ signature added in his final hours in office, strong majorities of lawmakers from both parties have reversed a long-ago decision and approved the “raise the age” bill. The measure changes from 17 to 18 the age at which a young person automatically is charged as an adult in criminal courts.

The law will take effect in two and half years, bringing Missouri in line with 45 other states and the District of Columbia. Advocates hope to restore the state to “model” status for its effectiveness in dealing with juvenile offenders while lowering arrest and incarceration rates.

This broadly backed change drew most of its opposition for the concern it will lead to an influx of 17-year-olds into the juvenile system, triggering staffing issues and a need for new facilities.

But supporters say the system can handle more youth. And we agree with those who believe the long-term benefits outweigh short-term added costs because youth offenders who go through the juvenile system have a better chance of becoming contributing members of society.

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