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.
Testimony offered included findings from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile system reduces the chances they will commit another crime by up to 34 percent.
And Mary Chant, executive director the Missouri Coalition of Children’s Agencies, noted youth facilities are better equipped to deal with still-evolving brains of teenagers through programs and counseling.
We are moved by the statistics showing 93 percent of 17-year-olds arrested in 2015 were accused of nonviolent or misdemeanor offenses, but all automatically were charged in adult courts. The new law still will allow referral to adult courts, but first a judge with significant discretion will determine whether the youth is transferred.
Finally, one of the best arguments is this reminder: When 17-year-olds are arrested as adults, their parents do not need to be told and do not have a right to be involved in the court process, advocates point out.
In the juvenile courts, these parents have an opportunity to play an important role in their child’s case and help put them back on the right path in life.