The congregations of Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) gained important agreements from St. Louis City and St. Louis County officials at their public meeting on Sunday, November 3 at Vashon High School. Both St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell and St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner agreed to do what they could to keep 17-year olds out of adult jail.
“Our leaders worked hard last year to pass the Raise the Age bill,” said Thomas Payton, a member of the MCU Juvenile Justice Task Force. Raising the age means not automatically certifying arrested youth as adults at 17 but at 18 years old and including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. Missouri’s “Raise the Age” law goes into effect in 2021.
Youth presented a skit illustrating the impact of the current certification of 17-year-olds. It told the story of a girl in high school being bullied. After a struggle to defend herself, the girl is arrested and charged as an adult because she is 17. Khadija Wilson, one of the players, addressed the audience afterwards.
“This skit is real,” said Ms. Wilson. “This is what happened to me when I defended myself in a bullying situation at my high school. I was arrested and processed into adult jail. Because I was seventeen.” Her story highlighted the danger of including youth in adult jails and prisons.
The prosecutors agreed to meet with MCU as well as other St. Louis City and County juvenile court officials to create a Raise the Age implementation working group meeting within 45 days of the public meeting. Also on hand agreeing to being a part of the implementation working group was Rick Gaines, Chief Juvenile Officer of St. Louis County.
MCU will also be working to ensure community participation and accountability from the new St. Louis City Office of Children, Youth and Families. The new director, Wilford Pinkney, Jr. agreed to include youth, especially court impacted youth, on the team he will be forming in the coming months.
“I am committed to right now listening … and have met a lot of people doing great work for the youth of St. Louis, and am committed to making sure that work reaches as many people as possible,” said Mr. Pinkney.
Charles Gentry, an MCU leader, presented EXPO, an organization for formerly incarcerated people. He was met with applause in announcing not only the creation of EXPO but also the Unlock the Vote MO campaign. Several people identifying as formerly incarcerated rose when asked and endorsed both efforts.
“There are 60,000 citizens in Missouri being denied their right to vote because they are still on probation or parole,” said Mr. Gentry. Missouri State Senator Jamilah Nasheed made the announcement that she has already prepared a bill that will restore to these citizens their voting rights. Missouri is one of 14 states still denying voting rights to citizens returning to the community until after post-incarceration supervision ends.
The public is invited on Tuesday, December 10 to an orientation of MCU’s Break the Pipeline Campaign. This campaign will work to organize the work presented in Sunday’s meeting.
For more information: http://mcustlouis.org
First photo by Richard Reilly; following photos by Harry Wadlington.