News Story

Who Pays If 17-Year-Old Offenders No Longer Jailed With Adults?

Juvenile justice programs cost more than adult prisons

Michigan lawmakers want the state to stop automatically prosecuting 17-year-old offenders as adults, but this is being held up by a state vs. county funding dispute. So a House committee is looking at a bill that gives counties some choice in how they reimbursed for the cost increase.

Under current law, 17-year-olds charged with a crime are treated the same as adults. A multi-bill “raise the age” legislative package introduced in the House late last year would end this policy. But the legislation has stalled because juvenile justice programs cost more than adult prisons, and county official and prosecutors want to know whether it will be the state or counties who pays the higher costs.

Under current law, most juvenile justice costs are split 50-50 between the state and counties. Under HB 6396, introduced in September by Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, a county could choose between two alternatives. It could either let the state pay 100 percent of the cost of handling 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system and keep getting 50 percent for younger offenders, or let the state pay 68 percent of all its juvenile justice expenses.

The House Fiscal Agency report estimates that the cost to the state of placing 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile justice system would range from $9.6 million and $26.8 million under the current system.

Michigan is one of four states that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults instead of keeping them in family court. Typically, minors prosecuted as adults in Michigan are incarcerated in adult facilities.

Howrylak’s two-tier proposal was the product of a work group assembled to break a funding logjam holding back a “raise the age” initiative. The group included legislators, Snyder administration officials, counties, courts, and nonprofits active in juvenile justice issues.

“The Raise the Age initiative must include a reasonable solution to funding concerns,” Howrylak said in a press release. “The work group has been diligently talking through and developing solutions for over a year. While we continue to work to improve the funding mechanism, I am pleased that there has been a consensus on this option-based plan.”

Among the groups supporting the raise-the-age legislation are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Michigan League for Public Policy and the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. Also backing it are religious organizations such as the United Methodist Church and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Nila Bala, associate director of criminal justice policy at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C., said it’s time for the state to stop treating minors as adults, adding that the proposed legislation should calm concerns about funding.

“It's definitely time for Michigan to include 17-years-olds in the juvenile justice system. There is plenty of research and data to suggest their outcomes greatly improve when they’re given the appropriate services as youth, instead of being treated as adults,” she said.

“In terms of the funding mechanism proposed in the bill, cost was the largest concern voiced during testimony to the committee. Most stakeholders said they want to include 17-year-olds in their juvenile justice system but are afraid their county can’t handle the increased number of young people,” Bala said. “The bill responds to this concern by providing two funding options, which gives counties more flexibility in incorporating 17-year-olds into their juvenile system, depending on that particular county’s individual numbers of youth. And it’s important to remember that in other states that have made the same change, the costs they predicted never materialized. Hopefully, the proposed funding mechanisms, combined with the success other states have had, will be enough to get this bill over the finish line.”