Jonathan’s Law Unanimously Clears Legislative Hurdle in Missouri
By Tracy McClard
The Missouri legislative session ended in victory for Senate Bill 36 - Jonathan’s Law - which was truly agreed upon and finally passed on the evening of Thursday, May 16, after garnering unanimous votes in the House and Senate. Jonathan’s Law was named after Missouri youth, 17 year- old Jonathan McClard, who after being accepted into Missouri’s highly touted Dual Jurisdiction Program by the Missouri Department of Youth Services (DYS), was denied entry by the judge and given a 30 year maximum prison sentence instead. Seven weeks later and 3 days after his 17th birthday, after losing all hope, Jonathan gave up his life.
The Missouri Dual Jurisdiction Program, created in 1996, by then DYS state director Mark Steward, is one of a kind in the nation and has received accolades from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Harvard University. It was created specifically for youth who are tried as adults in Missouri. The youth within the program are housed in a youth-oriented, home-like facility. Rehabilitation is the goal and youth can remain within the program until their 21st birthday. Youth receive services for education, mental health/counseling, drug treatment, victim empathy, and restitution with an emphasis on family involvement. Youth who complete the program have extremely low recidivism rates compared to youth who are placed in the Missouri Dept. of Corrections. The latest research places the program at an 83% success rate.
Jonathan’s Law opens the dual jurisdiction program up to more certified youth across the state in a couple of ways. First it addresses the issue of awareness and accountability of the courts by requiring judges to consider dual jurisdiction as a sentencing option for certified youth and issue findings if they go against the DYS recommendation to accept a youth into the program. Second, it allows the courts an additional six months to complete the eligibility process for the dual jurisdiction program. Currently the process has to be complete by the youths 17th birthday, Jonathan’s Law extends the process to 17 years and 6 months. In Jonathan’s case, if the judge had to issue findings, and if his case could have extended an additional 6 months, it most likely would have saved his life.
The fact that Jonathan's Law passed the senate judiciary committee with a unanimous vote speaks to the great desire to bring our children out of the adult system and once again treat our youth as children and not adults.