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Open Letter: Let’s focus on juvenile reform programs that address the root causes of delinquency

  

Dear Senator:

Kids Win Missouri, Missouri KidsFirst and the Missouri Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics, join in sharing your concern about crime and public safety, especially as it relates to youth. However, we wish to express our deep concern around potential unintended consequences of adding provisions which allow for more juveniles to be placed before a judge for certification as an adult.

Our organizations supported the “Raise The Age” effort, which was signed into law in 2018 and is set to go into effect in January 2021. This effort ensured that juveniles under the age of 17 were adjudicated in juvenile court settings. We are concerned that section (211.071) in SB 1 is in conflict with the spirit of ensuring that juveniles are by-and-large treated as juveniles.

Racial Equity Concerns

As recently as Missouri’s FY2019 Disproportionate Minority Contact Action Plan, Missouri noted the desire to reduce the number of youth of color being certified as adults. In FY2018, Missouri certified 41 juveniles as adults: 26 black youth, 13 white youth, 1 hispanic youth, and 1 Asian/Pacific Islander. In FY2018, black youth accounted for 63% of the certified youth, but to create parity, the state would have needed to be at 7.

Racial disparities in our justice system take place at all levels, including juveniles. We are concerned this expansion of offenses will exacerbate racial inequities in society and prevent juveniles from having the opportunity to right their path as adults.

Increased Risk Of Abuse

Decades of evidence shows that transfer to the adult criminal justice system presents a danger to children. Children in adult detention are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and twice as likely to be physically assaulted by other inmates or staff when compared to juvenile facilities. They are also subject to increased exposure to violence in adult facilities. This abuse and exposure to violence may have devastating long-term consequences for the victimized juvenile. Juveniles confined in adult facilities also have dramatically higher rates of suicide than do their counterparts housed in juvenile facilities.

We strongly recommend children remaining in the juvenile justice system where interventions can be put in place to address their underlying trauma and needs which are not available in adult facilities. Placement in adult jails and prisons generally inhibit a youth’s access to education, mental health treatment and support networks because educational and rehabilitative programming are limited in adult jails and prisons because the facility, staff, and programming were not developed to serve youth.

Expanding Youth Certification Leads To Higher Recidivism

Children are not adults, and therefore, a child between 12 and 18 should not be treated as an adult.

Missouri already has a process for certifying juveniles in adult courts in the extreme and limited circumstance where it may be necessary. This proposed statute expands the offenses and will likely lead to more youth being certified, exacerbating racial inequities, abuses known to exist when children are in adult prisons, and lead to an unintended consequence of increased recidivism compared to if a youth was adjudicated in a youth court setting.

Children will not thrive in an adult prison environment and doing so will have placed them at risk for abuse and a broad disadvantage for long term success and not reoffending.

Our Ask: Remove Section 211.071

We encourage the Senate to remove the juvenile certification expansion in SB1.

Instead of this provision, we hope to work with you to continue our focus on juvenile reform programs that address the root causes of juvenile delinquency which include adverse childhood trauma, mental health issues, food insecurity and other socioeconomic issues that drive youth to commit such crimes.

Sincerely,

Craig Stevenson, Kids Win Missouri
Jessica Seitz, Missouri KidsFirst
Garrett Webb, MOAPP