Macomb juvenile officials testify to back Senator's effort to raise age of juveniles in court
Macomb County’s top two juvenile court administrative officials favor legislation that would raise the age for adult criminal court from 17 to 18.
Nicole Faulds, the court administrator, and David Joseph, the program director, appeared at the state Capitol in Lansing for the second straight week to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by state Sen.
Peter Lucido, who touts a "raise the age" mantra.
Currently, a 17-year-old who commits a crime is charged as an adult.
Lucido (R-Shelby Township) wants to raise the age to align Michigan with most other states and because the juvenile system focuses more on treatment and rehabilitation than the adult system, which focuses more on punishment.
“This isn’t about being soft on crime,” Lucido told The Macomb Daily on Thursday. “This is about being right with our children whose brains aren’t fully developed (at 17).”
Faulds and Joseph said they testified about progressive efforts in the Juvenile Division of Macomb County Circuit Court that have led to fewer juvenile petitions and a significant drop in detainees in the county youth home. The Juvenile Justice Center has capacity for 140 juveniles but currently houses only 33, and five of those are from St. Clair County, which contracts with Macomb to house its juvenile detainees. There are also another nine in residential placements outside the facility.
“Our numbers have been declining for years,” Faulds told The Macomb Daily on Thursday afternoon.
The decline has come from “taking a more social work approach to (delinquent) kids and families.”
“It doesn’t mean we don’t hold kids accountable, but we look at how we can get an individualized outcome for the kid and the family’s needs addressed,” she said. “We’ve prevented future delinquent behavior by preventing them from going deeply in the system."
“We got a lot of attention for being ahead of the curve,” Joseph said.
They commended chief Judge James Biernat Jr. for supporting their efforts.
Macomb juvenile officials instituted a diversion program several years ago that focuses on treatment, and more recently has trained juvenile officers on “motivational interviewing,” which the Nebraska Juvenile Justice
Association says is “used to address … ambivalence toward personal change” and to prepare a minor “to achieve positive outcomes based on their own motivation, which can include readiness for treatment and life change.”
The raise-the-age effort is part of a 13-bill package by Lucido, a lawyer, that would also address other issues in the justice system.
Raising the age has received a great deal of support statewide and locally, including from county Prosecutor Eric Smith, who backs it as long as the “automatic waiver” remains for juveniles aged 14, 15 and 16 who are charged with certain violent crimes, such as murder, rape and carjacking. The waiver means the defendant is automatically tried as an adult, although a judge can rule to sentence him or her as a juvenile.
“I don’t want to see Michigan trail behind the overwhelming trend (nationally) that 17-year-olds are charges as juveniles,” Smith said.
Lucido noted the inconsistency of family and criminal courts in Michigan classifying 17-year-olds differently, at times creating difficult legal situations.
Faulds pointed out that at 17, most kids are still in high school.
Only four states charge 17-year-olds as adults. Nine states increased the age in the past decade, many since the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared an automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles – those under 18 – violate the Constitution because it they constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A stumbling block is cost. A 2018 report estimated that raising the age would increase the cost by $27 million and $61 million annually because juvenile rehabilitation and treatment programs are more expensive.
The juvenile system is funded half by the state Department of Health and Human Services and half by counties.
Joseph said they participated with Lucido and other state officials in a “work group” Wednesday night to address funding. Lucido said the counties want to be reciprocated for the additional expense, but he doesn't want it to result in a "money grab." The legislation would require counties to choose one of two mechanisms to be reimbursed by the state for adding 17-year-olds to the system.
Lucido hopes to bring the package to a vote soon, likely after the spring break but possibly earlier. The matter may have to be considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The legislation would then to go to the full Senate for a vote, and if it passes, would move to the House of Representatives.