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Bill designed to reduce juvenile population in adult jails gets first-round approval from Mo. Senate

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The Missouri Senate has given initial approval to a bill that raises the age to be tried as an adult from 17 to 18.

An exception would be if the minor is certified as an adult for serious crimes. 

The purpose of Senate Bill 793 is to reduce the number of youth in the adult system,” said its sponsor, Sen. Wayne Wallingford, a Republican who represents parts of southeast Missouri.

According to Wallingford, youth in adult prisons are 36 times more likely to commit suicide and 34 percent more likely to recommit crimes compared to their peers who serve sentences in juvenile detention centers.

“Prison is such a dangerous place for young people,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-Buchanan.

Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau.

Missouri is one of five states which have not raised the age of adult court jurisdiction to 18.

“Jails and prisons are graduate schools of crimes,” Wallingford said. “By treating teens differently than the majority of states who have raised the age, Missouri is making it more difficult for them to grow into successful adults.”

Youth who serve in adult prisons have a harder time finding a job or enrolling in school following their sentences, he said.

In the juvenile justice system, offenders can have access to therapy, rehabilitation, mental services and can continue their schooling, making it easier to reintegrate into society following the completion of their sentence, Wallingford said.

“With some guidance and support, they can become adults that contribute to society in a positive way,” Wallingford said. “Missouri’s children deserve that change.”

The bill needs one more vote by the full Senate before moving to the House. 

Follow Erin on Twitter: @ErinAAchenbach