PPA Poll Shows Support for Keeping Youth Away from Adults in Justice System
Nearly two-thirds of Michigan voters believe that youth under the age of 18 should never be placed in state prisons or county jails that house adults, according to a new poll commissioned by Public Policy Associates, Inc.
Although most voters believe there are times when youth should be dealt with in adult criminal courts, some 64 percent said young offenders should be kept out of prisons and jails with adult inmates.
The polling results come at a time of rising concern about how often or whether young people 17 and under should be prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system, and how those who do end up in adult prisons should be housed and protected.
A group of young inmates has sued the state alleging they were raped while incarcerated in Michigan prisons. Reform advocates are pushing to change state law to process 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system. And Governor Rick Snyder is creating a new Criminal Justice Policy Commission to take a comprehensive look at the state’s sentencing and parole policies.
“It is clear that Michigan residents understand that juveniles and adults are at different developmental stages and should be treated differently when they are accused of committing crimes,” said PPA President Dr. Paul Elam, who specializes in juvenile justice and criminal justice issues. “Michigan policy does not always recognize that distinction, and we are losing out on the chance to rehabilitate and save these youth.”
Michigan is one of just nine states that automatically consider 17-year-olds as adults if they are charged with crimes. More than 20,000 Michigan youth under age 18 were sentenced to prison, detained in jail, or placed on adult probation for crimes committed when they were 17 or younger, according to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Most of the young offenders were convicted of non-violent crimes, and most had no prior juvenile record.
“There is no evidence that juveniles locked in adult prisons are more likely to be rehabilitated than if they were in the juvenile justice system,” said Robb Burroughs, director of PPA’s Safety and Justice team. “In fact, adult prisons are far less equipped to provide the education and developmentally-appropriate programming needed to help youth change their behavior.”
The safety of young offenders is another concern. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of young prisoners who claim they were raped by inmates with little or no effort by corrections officers to prevent it from happening.
Although the Michigan Department of Corrections now keeps prisoners under 18 separate from adult inmates, policies are mixed in county jails that hold offenders or accused offenders, Burroughs said.
“While some jails are moving to separate 17-year-olds, it is certainly not happening in all jails,” Burroughs said. “The same is true for children under 17 tried as adults, although jails are slightly more likely to have policies for separating these younger individuals from the general population.”