ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Missouri law will be changing when it comes to how the criminal justice system handles 17-year-olds. Starting in 2021, 17-year-olds will be considered juveniles instead of adults.
At 17 you can be in the band, or the captain of the football team but in Missouri you can also find yourself behind bars in an adult prison.
It’s something Demetrius Evans believes a child shouldn’t see or experience. Evans is 33 and was on stage at Vashon High School sharing his story. He spent years in and out of the system, and at 15 he was certified as an adult for an armed robbery.
At 16, he was in a maximum security prison. He was one of many on Sunday who spoke out in support of the Raise the Age initiative.
In 2018, Missouri passed a law raising the age from 17 to 18 to be considered an adult in the criminal justice system.
It’s a measure supported by the prosecutors in both St. Louis City and county.
“Young people are young people. They make rash decisions but we have to look at what’s driving them to crime,” said Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.
The change does not take effect until January 1, 2021, but Gardner and St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell both pledged to participate in a working group to figure out how those changes will be implemented.
The courts will still be able to certify those younger than 18 as adults in certain cases.
According to organizers, youth transferred to adult prisons are 34% more likely to re-offend.
Those are the teenagers Evans hopes to reach before they end up behind bars.
“Many of the kids they have problems going on that is deeper than the crimes they are committing, issues in our homes or in society, fatherless no examples. It’s plaguing us real bad,” Evans said.
Missouri joins 45 other states in this change, including neighboring Illinois.