• Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency

Opinion: Keep Michigan kids out of prison

Originally Published Here

Under Michigan law, 17-year-olds are not allowed to vote or register for the military. They can’t buy lottery tickets, and they can’t open a line of credit. So why does Michigan law allow these same children to be thrown into prison with hardened criminals?

Incarcerating young people — especially those with nonviolent offenses — in the same prison as adults is harmful, expensive and ineffective when trying to make our communities safer.

Michigan is one of just four states that charges and prosecutes all 17-year-olds as adults no matter the severity of the crime. This failed logic stemmed from a time when lawmakers believed the only way to reduce crime was to “lock them all up and throw away the key.”

Like so many other states, Michigan participated in the buildup of the prison industrial complex, only for time to teach us the bitter reality: Our communities are not safer, and this archaic strategy has unnecessarily ruined many lives, especially for young people, in the process.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to Raise the Age, so 17-year-olds won’t automatically be placed in adult prisons. With the help of Republican Sen. Peter Lucido, we’ve drafted a bill package to keep our children out of adult jails.

This comprehensive legislation also seeks to provide access to age-appropriate rehabilitation, give judges the leniency to adjudicate adult sentences if necessary, and creates a Raise the Age Fund to ensure local judicial systems aren’t on the hook for the costs of increased juvenile traffic.

Our children shouldn’t be learning from hardened criminals inside the walls of a state prison. Research proves youth incarceration actually increases violent crime. Teens exiting the adult system are 34 percent more likely to re-offend, to do so sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.

People with adult criminal convictions also have a harder time obtaining post-secondary education, job training and employment. We’re failing our children and our communities by just throwing them behind bars.

If Michigan can fund adult rehabilitation courts, it should also give due attention to rehabilitating our youth rather than setting them on the path of most resistance. As a parent, I also believe we have a moral obligation to keep our children out of adult prisons. Our corrections system is meant to correct those who have done wrong in our society — not stifle opportunities for our youth.

Sylvia Santana, D–Detroit, represents Michigan's 3rd District in the Michigan Senate.

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