Redemption songs: Assessing ‘Raise the Age’ efforts in Michigan

It’s taken a little while, but policymakers and the public both recently have begun to recognize that, far too often, incarceration begets incarceration, rather than rehabilitation, particularly with respect to juvenile offenders.

In a new policy short, R Street Justice Policy Manager Christina Delgado and Strategic Policy Consultants President Sara Wycoff McCauley look at Michigan’s ongoing debate over efforts to “raise the age” for adult criminal prosecution, weighing the proposed policy against the impact current practices have on parental rights, public safety goals and the employability of youth.

“Still in their formative years, juveniles have the best opportunity to avoid further interaction with the criminal justice system,” notes Delgado. “One way to achieve this is to raise the age of criminal jurisdiction to 18. As many states are beginning to understand, 17-year-olds are children and should be treated as such by the criminal justice system—for a host of reasons.”

As the authors demonstrate, the government’s role in the criminal justice system should be limited to ensuring the public’s safety through effective, accountable means. Michigan’s current treatment of 17-year-olds, they argue, is costly and ineffective. It infringes on the rights of parents, exacerbates the state’s labor shortage and has lasting, negative impacts on the Great Lakes communities. The Michigan Legislature currently has an opportunity to develop a more effective, accountable system for handling these young offenders—something Michiganders are counting on them to achieve.

“It is time to acknowledge that there is a real and growing cost of continued business-as-usual approaches to juvenile justice,” writes McCauley. “While it may not be directly felt by government entities, it burdens Michigan families, businesses, communities and taxpayers. Quite frankly, it’s unsustainable.”

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