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I’ve changed since my crimes at 16. Other Missouri prisoners deserve a second chance | Opinion

According to science, the brain doesn’t stop developing until around the age of 25. In Missouri, a person must be 21 years old to purchase alcohol. Recently the Massachusetts Supreme Court prohibited life without parole sentences for people under the age of 21. In California the age is 25. Many states are recognizing this brain science and at least allowing prisoners a chance at parole if they were under the age of 21 when they committed their crime.

In Missouri, there are around 220 prisoners who were under 21 when they were sentenced to life without parole. I served my 27 years in prison with a lot of these men. In 1995, I was sentenced to 241 years for non-fatal crimes that I committed with another minor when I was 16 years old. Initially, I was not eligible for parole until I turned 112, and the judge told me — a teenager — that I would die in prison. I was released in 2022 after new legislation was passed that allowed parole for prisoners who were sentenced as juveniles.

Science and data prove that a lot of people age out of crime. I propose that here in Missouri, we should create a new professional panel, similar to Washington state’s Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board, to review these types of cases after these prisoners have served a significant portion of their sentence — 20 years, for instance.

I’m just calling for a second chance for these men and women. America is a county of second chances, and as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan A. Stevenson once said: “Each person is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” I know firsthand that some of these prisoners have done extraordinary things to change their lives since they were incarcerated. They could become better assets to us taxpayers out here in society, contributing to the economy, than they would merely dying in a jail cell.

In all of this, we will not forget about the victims, and I advocate for restorative justice. I know that families suffer from crime. Let’s come together for a solution.

As someone who walked the prison yard for 27 years, I am trying to help get free of these prisoners with great potential who were locked up when they were young. They were what experts now recognize as “emerging adults” when they committed their crimes. What this means is that they were not adults yet. They were emerging into adulthood. Should they be treated as adults in the justice system for the rest of their lives? No, I don’t think so.

In fact, those who were 18 or 19 years old when they committed their crimes were still teenagers. Let’s not just throw away the key. Second chances should be due. This is the new work for us to embark on as residents of Missouri.

Bobby Bostic is a motivational speaker and the author of eight books. He lives in St. Louis.


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