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
, 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

Featured Publications