WASHINGTON (Nov. 1, 2019) – The R Street Institute welcomes yesterday’s news that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation to raise the age of criminal majority. This means that 17-year-olds will no longer automatically be treated as if they are adults in the state’s justice system.
By passing this legislation, Michigan will improve public safety, more effectively use taxpayer dollars and most importantly, protect the dignity and well-being of young people in the system. The change will take effect in 2021.
Under any other aspect of the law, 17-year-olds are not treated the same as adults. Their brains are still developing, and so they should be treated differently than adults—a principle the Supreme Court has upheld. Because they’re still maturing, young people have great potential for rehabilitation when provided appropriate services, services they can receive only in the youth justice system. In addition, when 17-year-olds are treated as minors, parents can continue to be involved in their child’s legal proceedings.
Children who are shuttled into the adult prison system are more likely to leave the system as hardened criminals rather than rehabilitated members of society. In addition, an adult criminal record makes it very difficult to find employment in the future. A record can also impact a person’s ability to obtain housing and student loans.
Keeping kids out of the adult system and in the juvenile system improves public safety, as children who remain in the juvenile system have lower rates of recidivism. It’s also fiscally responsible: States that have passed Raise the Age legislation have saved taxpayer dollars as recidivism decreases and rehabilitated young people find better employment.
The move means that there will be just three states—Texas, Wisconsin and Georgia—that still treat 17-year-olds as if they are adults automatically in their respective justice systems.