Organization pushes to “Raise the Age” for those with cases in the judicial system

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ST. LOUIS – A group advocating for the youth in St. Louis city and county hosted a meeting at Vashon High School to address what they call the school to prison pipeline.

It is a push to reinforce raising the age for youth to be certified as adults in the judicial system.

Metropolitan Congregations United, a faith-based organization, requests St. Louis County and City prosecutors to treat 17-year-olds as a youth in the judicial system.

The Raise the Age Bill does not go into effect in Missouri until 2021. The meeting was aimed at making a plan to start implementing changes before then.

“Right now, we have data that shows youth are more likely to go to prison because young people drop out, out of school suspensions,” said Kim Gardner, Saint Louis City Circuit Attorney.

Both Gardner and Wesley Bell, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney were in on the conversation.

“This is more talking about how we treat people when they’re in any system and how they’re trying to raise the age to 18 so these cases would be handled by juvenile courts,” said Gardner.

There were powerful presentations from youth advocates and those whose family has been touched by the legal system.

Many shared experiences with a large crowd. MCU leader, Cathy Rauch shared her realization that there are disparities among ethnic and economic groups.

“I really feel had my children not been white, they might’ve ended up in jail,” said Rauch.  They’re in their 40’s now and they might still be in jail.”

The initiative asks that 17-year-olds have cases handled in the juvenile justice center rather than automatic certification as adults.

“Young people are young people. They make rash decisions, so we have to address the systemic issues that drive them to crime,” said Gardner.

When the question was raised about 17-year-olds committing violent crimes, Rauch said, “those kids who are committing violent crimes will still be held accountable as adults.”

It’s another push to break the pipeline and provide alternatives, resources, and a new narrative for youth.

“It’s trauma. You are taking a young person and putting him into an unstable system, and you are going to have repeat trauma and victimization,” said Gardner.

MCU has Break the Pipeline meetings every third Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at First Unitarian Church.

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