Every parent wants what is best for their children; however, as a parent myself, I realize the importance of raising our children so they understand the consequences for their actions. Discipline plays an important role in raising our children, but the punishment should fit the offense. Currently, Missouri is one of five states where 17-year-old children can be sent to prison for committing crimes, no matter how minor the offense. On Thursday, March 8, my Senate colleagues and I approved Senate Bill 793, legislation raising the age of adult court jurisdiction from 17 years of age to 18 years.

In Missouri, 17-year-olds can’t vote, they can’t serve on juries and they can’t even buy a lottery ticket. However, our court system automatically tries 17-year-olds as adults no matter how minor the crime. Missouri’s prison system is not set up to address the needs of children. Offenders who have served their time in our correctional system are three times more likely to return to prison than kids leaving one of our state’s juvenile facilities.

A recent study conducted by a professor at Missouri State University details the economic benefits of raising the age of court jurisdiction. The study shows young people, who are retained in the juvenile system rather than the adult prison system, have more success as adults by working better jobs, paying more taxes and becoming more involved in their local communities. Recidivism rates are also significantly lower for youth who are in Missouri’s juvenile system rather than adults serving in one of our correctional facilities. These facts suggest that enacting this legislation would benefit our state’s economy.

Beyond the practical benefits to the state, raising the age of adult jurisdiction protects parental rights. In other aspects of state law, 17-year-olds are considered children; however, if these individuals are arrested, their parents lose their right to support, defend and care for their children. In the juvenile court system, parents play an important role in their child’s case. These are times when parents are needed the most, and denying them the opportunity to support and care for their child violates their rights as parents.

However, this legislation does not prevent the court system from prosecuting 17-year-olds accused of serious crimes as adults. I believe this legislation not only provides numerous economic and practical benefits to our state, but it extends an opportunity for our young people to address issues in their lives while keeping them out of our state’s correctional facilities. As we move forward with the 2018 legislative session, I am optimistic this bill will receive approval from the Missouri House of Representatives and make it to the governor’s desk before the end of the legislative session.