Despite new Missouri law, 17 year-olds still considered adults

Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 11:25 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 4:23 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A new Missouri law is delayed in taking effect. Starting January 1st, 17-year-olds were supposed to be treated as juveniles instead of adults.

The Greene Juvenile Justice System is ready to take on 17-year-olds. But administrators say they do not think they have the legal jurisdiction. And, they need money to implement the change. State legislation only gives juvenile justice systems jurisdiction over 17-year-olds *if the legislature provides extra funding for the initiative.

Greene County’s Chief Juvenile Officer Bill Prince says they were working with lawmakers to get a funding mechanism in place when COVID-19 hit, and the efforts became delayed.

But three potential fixes are in the works. Governor Mike Parson recently asked the legislature to appropriate about $18 million to fund the new law. House Bill 1242 would change the funding condition. There’s also a Supreme Court case over the issue.

“They are reviewing an adult charge brought against a 17-year-old to determine what the statute says about jurisdiction,” says Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson. “And so hopefully that will give us some clarity when that case is decided.”

Prince is waiting for either of the legislature or the court to give them the green light.

“We do feel like, in many cases, we will be able to help these kids and again, divert them from having to go to jail and deeper into the criminal justice system,” said Prince. “So we’re looking forward to working with this population, and again, we just want to make sure we’re on legal footing to do that.”

Patterson is also in favor of the change. “It will bring us in line with the rest of the country as well as make our statutes consistent. For example, child abuse, a child is defined as someone under 18. So it makes our laws consistent.”

Prince says they would need additional funding for staff and more office space to effectively help 17-year-olds. He estimates the courts may see up to a 40% increase in referrals. But court administrators will work with what they have at the moment.

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