News Story

Third Time A Charm For ‘Raise The Age’ Juvenile Justice Reform?

‘Who pays?’ stalled bipartisan effort in previous two legislatures, but there appears a will to move it now

A bipartisan effort underway in the Michigan Legislature would raise the age at which a young person can be charged as an adult for a crime from 17 to 18.

Although states generally provide prosecutors with some discretion for charging 17-year-olds as adults, the presumptive or default age for this in most states is 18. Michigan is one of seven states where the presumptive age is 17.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Rep. Roger Hauck, R-Union Township, said in an email, of raising the age. “Countless studies have shown that putting juveniles in the adult penal system leads to greater recidivism.”

This is the third Legislature in which the proposal has been introduced. It has bipartisan support from lawmakers and is also backed by a broad range of groups: the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Michigan League for Public Policy, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

The obstacle to current and recent past efforts is the cost of the change and the question of which level of government will pay. It costs more to pay the care and treatment costs of minors who become wards of the court under the juvenile justice system. Under current law, these costs are split between the state and counties.

The proposed reforms are contained in several multi-bill legislative packages introduced in both the House and Senate. The legislation will affect about 2,700 17-year-olds annually, according to Hauck, who said that most people in his district are not even aware that the default standard is to prosecute 17-year-olds as adults.

“While there will be some added cost in our juvenile justice system by adding this population, I don’t believe we should delay this policy change any longer,” Hauck said.

Along with several other state representatives, Hauck is sponsoring one of the bipartisan bills that would address the issue.

A 17-year-old who is in prison with an adult population is more likely to be sexually assaulted, more likely to commit suicide and more likely to commit crimes after being released from prison, said Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming. Brann is another sponsor of legislation to change the presumptive age to 18.

“I also believe many when they are released from prison, they’ve become hardened, possibly better criminals,” Brann said. Speaking of a study published by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, he said, “More than 20,000 juveniles had been sentenced as adults in Michigan, most of them 17-year-olds. Michigan is one of only seven states in the nation that still do this. I believe it’s time to change this and I support this legislation.”

Though past efforts to change the law were unsuccessful, Jason Smith, who directs youth justice policy at the council, thinks this time might be different.

“I am very optimistic about the passage of legislation this session,” he said in a news release. “There is a diverse and growing coalition of stakeholders that are committed to its success. Legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle are supportive of the bills. And polling shows that the majority of Michiganders are in favor as well. Simply put, ‘Raise the Age’ is sound public policy, broadly supported and long overdue.”

The proposals would allow prosecutors to seek exceptions for 17-year-olds charged with certain violent crimes, such as murder.