Former GOP Speaker: Raise age for criminal prosecution
Today in Michigan, an arrested 17-year-old will be tried as an adult and, if convicted, will have a permanent criminal record. In almost every other state, a 17-year-old arrested on the same day for the same offense will be met with a holistic approach that prioritizes accountability and good outcomes.
Put plainly, while Michigan saddles our young people with adult records and lifetime consequences, those who have made the same poor choices in other states can have more access to college, jobs, and other advancements our own children will be excluded from. The collateral consequences of an adult record also weigh disproportionately on youth of color.
This must change.
Locking up 17-year-olds with adults is counterproductive and makes our neighborhoods less safe. Further, it disregards our young people’s tremendous potential for change and redemption.
Gov. Whitmer will soon be delivering her first State of the State address. When she does, she’ll have the opportunity to pick up where the previous administration and legislature left off. Former legislators almost uniformly agreed that raising the age was the moral thing to do, but they didn’t have the stamina to make the necessary budget provisions.
Having worked with Gov. Whitmer in the past, I have seen firsthand her commitment, creativity, and talent in advancing budget priorities that matter to our state. As our governor, she has an opportunity to raise her voice for a voiceless population. She can join with supporters of raising the automatic age for adult prosecution, with support from the political left as well as Tea Party and Christian conservatives. Whitmer and the Republican majority leaders in the House and Senate should seize this opportunity to align Michigan’s budget with our values by raising the age to 18.
Recognizing the important development that happens during the teen years, Michigan’s laws prevent a 17-year-old from voting, renting a car, or even buying some common medications over the counter. Yet, a 17-year-old can serve prison time alongside grown men and women, and Michigan is one of only four states to automatically try them as adults. This goes against what we know about youth development, and it’s a blot on our record of investing in Michigan’s greatest resource: our children.
There’s another reason why most states have already raised the age: It makes communities safer. A recent study showed that youth who were transferred to adult facilities were 34 percent more likely to be rearrested for violent or other crimes than those who stayed in the juvenile justice system.
By not raising the age, we’re continuing to endanger our own neighborhoods in a misguided attempt to be “tough on crime.” Raising the age is the smart thing—and the right thing—to do. It will produce safer communities with more opportunities for our young people.
Budgets are a powerful expression of our values. This year, Gov. Whitmer and the Republican leadership in the legislature should align state spending with the God-given dignity and potential of the rising generation. It’s time to raise the age for Michigan.
Craig DeRoche is senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship (www.prisonfellowship.org). He is the former Republican speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives.