Primary Election Day in Missouri: Why It's Important To #VoteYouthJustice
By Michael Dammerich, CFYJ Junior Board Member
Buying a house, renting a car, or even catching a Lyft are all simple things, right? Of course. However, we take it for granted you must be 18 to do any of those. Most people can agree on that. What about serving an adult prison sentence? In Missouri, kids as young as age 12 are "eligible" to find themselves behind bars in an adult institution.
As a state, Missouri has a considerable portion of the budget allocated for education. In fact, the Governor suggested that the budget for Fiscal Year 2018 have funding for education services over four times greater than that of corrections. With priorities in funding outlined as such, it should follow there is legislation to supplement the focus on education. However, when a minor finds themselves in the criminal justice system they receive no benefit of that fiscal allotment.
When I was 16, I found myself transferred to adult court, and ultimately in the county jail, after a stint in juvenile detention. Combined, I spent nearly a year incarcerated between the two before I received my sentence. Throughout the duration of that time, I receive no opportunity whatsoever to continue my high school education. The entirety of that incarceration was dead time. No credits earned. Nothing conducive to an educational environment.
Having emerged from those circumstances (and an additional four year sentence) I’m currently in college studying political science. As I learn about quorums and incumbents, I can’t help but remember the first lesson I learned in the field of political science: we need legislation to ensure the kids in our communities are safe and receiving the services to which they are entitled. Without such laws we’ll have kids in jail receiving no education. Unfortunately, denial of education services is far from the worst atrocity our kids in jail face.
The next time you call a Lyft, you shouldn’t feel guilty about taking it for granted simply because a minor can’t legally do it as well. However, the next time you debate whether you should vote… perhaps you might give it a second thought before dismissing it. That is something you must be 18 to do, but far more critical than renting a house or calling a Lyft.
Wake up five minutes earlier in the morning and review your candidates’ platforms while you have your coffee. If you don’t see anything on the topic of kids from your community going off to an adult prison- or if you don’t see anything at all regarding juvenile justice issues- contact said candidate. Engage in conversation with them and determine where they stand. When we vote for leaders that keep our kids and young people in the forefront of their minds, we are creating better odds for our kids and young people to succeed. Some of their greatest obstacles are laws and policies they have no chance of understanding, so they rely on us to make smart voting decisions. The cliche goes our children are the future, but let’s not forget you play a crucial part in shaping their future.
Michael Dammerich is an advocate, speaker, and an activist in social justice, and is a member of CFYJ's junior board.