Michigan is one of the last states left that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults, even for low level offenses. This session, Michigan has a chance to change that policy and help the children of the Wolverine State.
The Raise-the-Age package—the title of the legislation to “raise the age” of criminal majority to 18—passed through the Michigan Senate on Wednesday, and the state’s House this afternoon. Since they are different versions of the bill, each of the bills will go to the other house to be considered. Then, it will be in Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s hands. The final step for Raise-the-Age to become law in Michigan is close.
Currently, all justice-involved 17-year-olds are placed in the adult system—a setting ill-suited to their needs. Young people in the adult system have higher suicide rates and often do not receive proper educational services. Right now, teens who commit even the most minor offenses, like shoplifting or jumping a turnstile, end up with an adult record. In the long term, young people with adult records are less likely to receive employment opportunities in the future, which hurts the fabric of our economy and society.
In short, placing kids in the adult system permanently harms their well-being, and our communities suffer with them.
As the respective houses and Gov. Whitmer consider the bill, there may be concerns about the juvenile justice system’s ability to absorb 17-year-olds. It’s worth noting that there are already older youth in the juvenile justice system. Young people who were under 17 when they received their disposition typically remain in the juvenile system after they turn 17. This is a good thing, since any parent knows that children don’t magically mature on their 17th, or even 18th birthday.
When these kids are placed in the adult system, parents are left out of the loop. The juvenile justice system incorporates family values by including parents in the process. The system can (and already does) serve older youth, and a system that is designed for teenagers, rather than adults, is something that will benefit justice-involved 17-year-olds significantly.
There are also concerns about cost: the Raise-the-Age package responds to these concerns by providing fully funded services for those over 17, and builds in a few years before Raise-the-Age would take effect—giving counties time to prepare for more youth.
Yes, there may be short-term costs, but even these costs are likely not as high as predicted. If all the other states that passed Raise-the-Age offer indication, the costs they predicted did not actualize, and some states even saved money.
The reality is Michiganders are already paying a high cost when youth who don’t need to be in the adult system are placed there—as youth in the adult system are more likely to commit further crimes and remain in the system. In the long term, both youth and our communities will be better off for making this change.
Image credit: Jan H Andersen