Children Are Our Future: Resurrecting Juvenile Rehabilitation Through 'Raise the Age' Legislation in Missouri.

AuthorBriggs, Brittany L.

    On Monday, October 29, 2018, retired St. Louis Police Sergeant Ralph Harper was murdered during a botched robbery. (1) Two juveniles, ages fifteen and sixteen, were accused of carrying out the attempted robbery gone wrong. (2) Because of their ages, they were charged in juvenile court, where punishments are more individualized and sentences are generally less harsh than adults would receive. (3) To determine if the boys would be subject to the adult criminal system, they were granted a transfer hearing where a juvenile court judge determined whether the nature of the accused crime and the juveniles' individual characteristics would be better addressed by the adult criminal justice system. (4)

    At the transfer hearing, the two juveniles made their cases about why they belonged in the juvenile system. (5) For a crime he committed at age fifteen, one juvenile was charged as an adult with second degree murder, armed criminal action, attempted robbery, tampering, and resisting arrest. (6) He eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a twenty-year suspended sentence in a dual jurisdiction juvenile program. (7) If the juvenile successfully completes juvenile programming, including counseling and vocational training, he could be released on probation when he is twenty-one years old. (8) The other juvenile who participated in Sergeant Harper's death also received juvenile detention for his role. (9) Ironically, one of the boys' seventeen-year-old brother, Julian Mathews, charged with a lesser crime unrelated to the murder, did not receive the same chance.

    Julian was arrested on the same day as the boys but was not involved in the attempted robbery or murder. (10) He was charged with two misdemeanors upon his arrest. (11) Because Julian was seventeen years old when he was arrested, he was charged as an adult. (12) Weeks before Sergeant Harper's death, Julian had been arrested and charged with two felonies: felony possession of marijuana and unlawful possession of a weapon. (13) Unlike his brother, he will not receive the many benefits of juvenile court. If convicted, he will carry a felony criminal record and its collateral consequences with him for the rest of his life. His younger brother, however, could avoid those negative consequences in the juvenile system.

    The difference between Julian and his brother's cases demonstrates how significant a year can be to a juvenile facing the criminal system. Soon, seventeen-year-old juveniles such as Julian will be eligible to receive the benefits of Missouri's juvenile system. In recent years, state legislatures across the country have made it harder to try juveniles in adult courts in a legislative movement known as "Raise the Age." (14) Generally, Raise the Age legislation represents an evolution in thinking about juvenile justice. In 2018, Missouri's General Assembly joined the "Raise the Age" movement by passing Senate Bill 793. (15) On June 1, 2018, former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 793 into law, which will raise the age of criminal adult prosecution from seventeen to eighteen. (16) Missouri joins forty-five other states and the District of Columbia that have passed similar "Raise the Age" bills in recent years. (17) Senate Bill 793 will not go into effect until January 1, 2021, but when it does, seventeen-year-old juveniles who violate the law will automatically be processed in Missouri's juvenile courts. (18) This bill is good news both for the state of Missouri and its juveniles; it will shield some juveniles from the adult criminal justice system and its often-irreparable consequences while also lowering costs and recidivism rates for Missouri.

    This Note examines the effects of Senate Bill 793 on Missouri and its juveniles through the lens of historic shifts in the understanding of juvenile justice. Part II of this Note reviews the historical background leading to the creation of separate juvenile justice systems and the history of Missouri's juvenile justice system. Part III explores how the law has evolved as our understanding of juveniles has evolved. Section A gives a brief history of "Raise the Age" statutes across the United States. Section B details how the United States Supreme Court decided to "raise the age" for the harshest types of punishment: the death penalty and life without the possibility of parole. Part IV is an in-depth look at Missouri Senate Bill 793 and addresses the two-fold benefit of the change by first explaining why Senate Bill 793 is good for Missouri's juveniles, then discussing why the legislation is also good for Missouri's communities. Finally, Part IV analyzes possible future reforms to make Missouri's juvenile system better and Missouri's juveniles safer.


    The path to legal adulthood is incremental. In Missouri, the age of majority--the age at which the law considers an individual fully mature--is eighteen, with few exceptions. (19) Such exceptions include the age a person may drive, get married, give sexual consent, and purchase and consume tobacco products and alcohol. An individual may drive a car and get married with parental consent at sixteen. (20) A seventeen-year-old Missourian may consent to engage in sexual activities. (21) In some Missouri jurisdictions, individuals may not buy tobacco products until they are twenty-one. (22) Further, individuals may not purchase, possess, or consume alcohol until they are twenty-one years old. (23)

    By law, children are not mature enough to engage in many of the above activities. However, in some instances the state still imposes criminal liability on children. Children as young as twelve can be certified, tried, and sentenced as adults in the Missouri criminal justice system. (24) There is a tension between imposing adult criminal liability on children by virtue of their actions while simultaneously barring them because of their youth from driving, marrying, voting, smoking, drinking alcohol, or making independent medical decisions. The Section that follows aims to put this dichotomy in context by presenting a brief history of the juvenile justice system, its goals, and its justifications. Next, Section B offers an overview of the structure of Missouri's juvenile justice system and briefly explores why it is a model for other systems across the United States.

    1. Children Are Not Criminals: An Overview of the Juvenile Justice System

      Between 1968 and 1972, the United States saw a downward trend for the age of majority from twenty-one to eighteen. (25) In response, individuals began calling for a change in the way society dealt with children in the criminal sphere. (26) Prior to the creation of juvenile courts, children accused of crimes were given harsh sentences and confined in adult prisons where conditions were grim. (27) Children were often viewed as miniature adults without distinctive emotional and cognitive abilities. (28)

      Throughout the nineteenth century, "child-savers" advocated for the creation of separate juvenile courts. (29) From the late-nineteenth century until the eve of World War I, Progressive-Era reformers argued children were not similar to adults and should not be treated as such. (30) They argued poor environments, rather than intentional behavior by juveniles, were contributing to cases of delinquency. (31) They began to push reforms that addressed the harsh confinement conditions many child offenders faced. Such reforms included curfew laws designed to keep juveniles inside and out of trouble during the nighttime hours. (32) Single mothers were offered government-subsidized stipends that allowed them to stay home with their children because many feared sending single mothers to work would push young, poor, and unsupervised children into lives of crime. (33)

      These reforms were coupled with the creation of an entirely separate juvenile justice court system. In 1899, Cook County, Illinois enacted the first separate juvenile justice court in the United States. (34) By 1925, nearly every state maintained a juvenile court that, unlike the adult criminal justice system that focused on punishment and confinement, focused on rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. (35) These new courts gave children an alternative means of adjudication outside the adult criminal system. Juvenile courts also provided treatments outside of mere confinement that focused on the needs of "abused, neglected, delinquent, and dependent children." (36)

      These new juvenile courts were put to the test almost immediately. The Great Depression struck the United States in 1929, and as a result, delinquency rates rose as many children had to choose between attending school or working to provide for their families. (37) Some children resorted to theft to avoid hunger. Juvenile delinquents from this era were some of the first to be tried under the new paradigm guiding the juvenile courts: rehabilitation and prevention over confinement and punishment.

      1. Early Juvenile Courts and the Rehabilitative Model

        Early juvenile justice courts had jurisdiction over four categories concerning juveniles: abuse and neglect, adoption, status offenses, and delinquency. (38) Early juvenile courts were also courts of civil jurisdiction meant to temper punishment with mercy by shielding juveniles from the harshness of the criminal system. (39) These courts sought to address the misbehavior of juveniles by taking measures meant to rehabilitate them and prevent them from committing future crimes. (40) The rehabilitative model of these courts was future-looking. It took the juvenile's age and culpability into account and addressed the child's delinquency through programs and methods that sought to prevent re-offending. (41) The state, through the early juvenile courts, sought "to replicate the environment that the child would enjoy in a family setting." (42) In these courts, the judge was meant to sit as a fatherly...

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