Perverse New Missouri Law Could Sentence Grade Schoolers to Four Years of Prison Time

On January 1, 2017 a revised statute went into effect that changes the laws on what punishments can and should be handed out to children who have fights in school. Previously a child could be charged with a misdemeanor and released to their parents. Now they will get plugged into the school to prison pipeline just that much faster.


However, with the new law going into effect on January 1, that student will now head to a juvenile detention center and be charged with a Class E felony.

That means they could spend up to four years in jail.

One of the serious issues here is that schools, by the new definitions of the law, are mandated to report any and all “first degree harassment” or fights to the authorities—if those situations arise during school hours and under a school’s jurisdiction. According to Susan Goldammer, a lawyer for the Missouri School Boards’ Association who was interviewed by Kansas City 41’s KSHB, this means that the change in statute is really about tying educators’ hands.

SG: The mandated reporting laws require that we contact law enforcement. For most of our students, they are under the age of 17 and that would probably be the juvenile office. For the students that are 17 or older, we would call the police.

41: Will all calls to law enforcement result in felonies?

SG: Just because the school district reports an offense it doesn't mean that any subsequent action will take place. It is up to the discretion of law enforcement, the juvenile office, [and] the prosecutors to determine whether a student should be charged with a crime or if action needs to be brought in juvenile court regarding the actions of the particular students. So there is a lot of discretion on the law enforcement end of it to determine if this actually results in any kind of criminal record for the students, but school districts do not have that discussion.

Proponents of the law say that this will be a deterrent for young people. Science and data and psychology say that that is one hundred percent not how conflict resolution and teaching young people how to handle high stress, highly emotional situations. It’s especially hard when there is serious evidence that a) young people don’t necessarily have the minds to control certain impulses under certain conditions that an older person has, and b) just because you have a fight or fights doesn’t mean you should be sent to jail to be turned into a hardened criminal.

Violence toward others also tends to peak in adolescent years, says psychiatrist Peter Ash of Emory University. It's mostly likely to start around age 16, and people who haven't committed a violent crime by age 19 only rarely start doing it later, he said.

The good news here, he said, is that a violent adolescent doesn't necessarily become a violent adult. Some two-thirds to three-quarters of violent youth grow out of it, he said. "They get more self-controlled."

Missouri, like most of America, needs to stop relying on police and prisons and systematic racism to solve its problems. 

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