Open Letter: SB 1 will inflict incalculable harm on Missouri’s children
We, the undersigned, write to urge you to reject legislation being considered during the special session that will lead to more children being prosecuted as adults, a practice which decades of evidence has shown is harmful to children, their families, and their communities, and is responsible for increased recidivism and worse public safety outcomes.
The proposed legislation — SB 1 — requires a certification hearing for children accused of a wide variety of firearms offenses. If the purpose of the special session is to enhance public safety, this proposal would do the opposite, while inflicting incalculable harm on Missouri’s children.
Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and two times more likely to be beaten by staff in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities. As a result, children incarcerated with adults are five times more likely to commit suicide than those who remain in the juvenile system. And those children who survive are more likely than adults to suffer permanent trauma from these ugly experiences.
Missouri legislators should not seek to expand the number of children subjected to these kinds of abuses.
Disturbingly, this legislation, if enacted, would be applied disproportionately against Black children. Missouri court data in 2017 showed that Black children were almost six times more likely to be certified as adults than white children.
Missouri legislators must refrain from passing legislation that will exacerbate the already stark racial disparities in our justice system.
Expanding juvenile certification will also harm public safety. Children prosecuted as adults — traumatized and denied the educational and rehabilitative services available in the juvenile system — have a 34 percent higher recidivism rate than those who remain in the juvenile system.
Just two years ago, the Missouri Legislature clearly recognized how counter-productive and harmful the prosecution of children as adults can be when it passed the landmark “Raise the Age” reform. Driving support for “Raise the Age” was a bi-partisan agreement that it was best to keep children in the juvenile system that was designed to hold them accountable with education, therapy, and rehabilitation programming that is mostly absent from the adult system. Two years ago, Missouri legislators recognized that the adult system is simply not equipped to handle the needs of children or to ensure that they don’t return to criminal activity once released.
We urge Missouri legislators to remember these lessons and reject legislation that will increase the prosecution of children as adults. To address an increase in gun offenses in Missouri, we recommend a study to determine and understand the underlying reasons for that increase and to then develop appropriate and effective policy responses. Expanding the eligibility of children to be certified as adults will not solve the problem, and, in fact, will only make it worse.
Sara Baker, Policy Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri
Nila Bala, Associate Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street Institute
Kristian Blackmon, Regional Organizer, Campaign for Youth Justice
Johnda Boyce, Attorney, Kansas City, Missouri
Tricia Rojo Bushnell, Executive Director, Midwest Innocence Project
Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression
Johanna Fisher, Kansas City, Missouri
Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), Executive Director, Law Enforcement Action Partnership
Chief Betty Frizzell (Ret.), Winfield Police Department, Winfield, Missouri
Rev. Cassandra Gould, Missouri Faith Voices
Stan and Kelly Greer, Parents of 15-year-old certified as an adult who committed suicide
H. Martin Jayne, Associate Professor Emeritus, Justice Systems, Truman State University
Sarah Johnson, Director of Juvenile Defense and Policy, Missouri State Public Defender
Adelaide Lancaster, Co-Founder and Director of Strategy, We Stories
Jeanette Mott Oxford, Director of Policy & Organizing, Empower Missouri
Cathy Rauch, First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, Toward Justice Group
The Sentencing Project
Donnell “Malik” Simms
Kathryn Turner, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine
Carla Weise, President, Missouri PTA
Rev. Dr. Dietra Wise Baker, Lead Organizer, Break the Pipeline Campaign, Metropolitan Congregations United