Law keeping Missouri teens out of adult prisons is not being enforced

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – In 2018, Missouri passed legislation becoming the 46th state to opt against charging 17-year-olds as adults. That was to begin on Jan. 1, 2021. But that’s not happening.

“I have a 17-year-old client who’s incarcerated and if the law was being respected that was signed by the governor of Missouri, he would not be in an adult jail right now,” said attorney Matt Fry, with Rosenblum, Schwartz and Fry.

Fry wants it fixed immediately, if not by the Missouri Legislature then by the court of appeals where a lawsuit is pending.

“But prosecutors are still going to charge you as an adult other than St. Louis County and Jackson County,” Fry said.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell says his office will “treat children as children.”

“Keep in mind, for serious violent offenders, certification to adult court is still on the table,” Bell said.

So why is most of Missouri not following the law? It appears until there is an appropriation of funds to implement the new law, prosecutors say they can’t.

“Unfortunately, (the legislation) did not take effect Jan. 1, 2021, due to the conditional language in the legislation,” St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said. “The Missouri Legislature did not appropriate funds as conditioned in the legislation. These issues are currently being litigated.”

St. Charles County Prosecuting Tim Lohmar said: “The present state of the law is clear that in the absence of the legislature appropriating enough money to cover the costs of expanding the juvenile system, the changes don’t take effect.”

But Fry says he has been told there is a $3 million fund in Jefferson City set aside for this law. He says if something happens to a juvenile while in adult prison when that person should not have been there, major lawsuits will follow.

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