It's Time to Raise the Age
Before we both had the honor of serving in the Legislature to craft the state’s laws, we worked to uphold those laws. In our roles as a defense attorney and a former police detective, we might not have seen eye to eye on matters of the law. And in roles as a Republican and a Democrat we may not see eye to eye on matters of policy. But when we do agree wholeheartedly on an issue it is all the more significant.
One such issue is raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old. There is currently a 16-bill package of legislation in the House Committee on Law and Justice that would do just that. Similar legislation passed the House last session in April 2016 in a bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion, but did not make it out of the Senate and on to the governor’s desk. With this year marking the end of another legislation session, these bills have until December 2018 to be passed into law before the legislative slate is cleared and the bill process will have to start all over.
Michigan is one of only five states to still automatically charge all 17-year-olds as adults — regardless of their offense. But raising the age is less about what 45 other states are doing (though that is a noteworthy majority), and more about what Michigan is doing to our kids and their futures.
By trying and sentencing Michigan 17-year-olds as adults, their punishment is going well beyond probation or incarceration. These 17-year-olds are also being sentenced to 5.5 months less education each year than their peers who get to stay in their community and attend school. Michigan 17-year-olds are being sentenced to 40 percent lower lifetime earnings. They are being sentenced to having an adult criminal record that will hound them their whole lives and hurt their future employment opportunities.
And most disheartening, 17-year-olds that are sent to adult prisons and jails are being sentenced to a greater likelihood of violence and trauma. Youth in adult prisons and jails are twice as likely to be beaten by staff, five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in the juvenile justice system.
These statistics fly in the face of the idea that the justice system is designed for rehabilitation for these young kids. Most of them are nonviolent offenders, and they end up having their whole lives upended and permanently altered by a dumb decision. Raising the age would bring tangible benefits to youth by allowing them to seal their criminal records, increasing their ability to secure employment. This also impacts wages and their future earnings.
Raising the age would not only have a positive financial impact on these young people — it can save the state money, too. Pre-adjudication diversion and community-based programming offered through the juvenile justice system cost a mere fraction of confinement costs. Since the adult system does not have as many options for pre-adjudication diversion as the juvenile courts, raising the age would result in lower incarceration rates for 17-year-olds who have committed low-level offenses, such as retail fraud, minor in possession of alcohol, or misdemeanor property damage. These cases would likely be diverted, thus decreasing court caseloads and eliminating associated fees and potentially reducing state incarceration costs.
But if these notions don’t appeal to your heartstrings or your purse strings, treating 17-year-olds as adults is also a failure in upholding public safety.
National studies find that youth in the juvenile justice system recidivate less than youth who have been tried in the adult system. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Task Force on Community Preventive Services found that youth exiting the adult system are 34 percent more likely to reoffend, reoffend sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system. Another study by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that “research provides sound evidence that transferring juvenile offenders to criminal [adult] court does not engender community protection by reducing recidivism. On the contrary, transfer substantially increases recidivism.”
As lawmakers with legal backgrounds, we know the devastating impact sentencing Michigan kids as adults is having. Making this policy change to raise the age is an investment in our young people, their chances at rehabilitation and their futures. We are poised to vote yes. We just hope the committee chairs and legislative leadership will give us and our colleagues a chance to.
State Representative Peter Lucido is a Republican from Shelby Township. Senator Vincent Gregory is a Democrat from Lathrup Village.