Column: Raise the age for juvenile court jurisdiction
Michigan is one of only four states that continues to automatically treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system -- a practice that began in 1912. Over the ensuing 107 years, our knowledge and understanding of human development and behavior have grown dramatically, yet our justice policies toward 17-year-olds remain the same. Every other state law that we have, from voting age to serving on a jury, establishes the age of adulthood at 18.
Treating all youth who come in contact with the justice system in the same manner as adults has proven to be harmful, and ineffective. Parents are not notified when their 17-year-old teenager is arrested, and despite being required by our state’s child welfare law to care for their health and well-being, the parents' input on issues related to sentencing and treatment options for their child is often not welcomed in the adult system. Further, placing youth in a facility designed for adults puts young people at risk of physical and sexual assault, and increases the likelihood of re-offending once they are released.
As a state representative, it is my goal to support Michigan’s youth so that they may learn, grow, and become productive, healthy members of society. Unfortunately, under our current laws, a 17-year-old Michigan resident who is convicted of any offense will have more difficulty getting admitted into Central Michigan University or being hired for good-paying jobs in our state than would any teenager from neighboring states such as Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio (or even Canada) who was convicted of the same crime, at the same age. An early criminal record can have profound effects on all aspects of a youth's life: education, housing, and employment instability, and lower lifetime earnings to name a few.
For these reasons, I’m sponsoring legislation in the Michigan State House of Representatives that would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18.
When young people who break the law are held accountable for their actions by our juvenile justice system and are offered treatment that is age and developmentally-appropriate, they recidivate less as adults, producing long-term economic an societal benefits. States such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts that raised their age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18 have experienced millions of dollars in savings, decreased youth recidivism rates, and declines in judicial costs.
The next few weeks will be critical for this issue and as a citizen, you can contribute to the fight for youth justice; contact your legislators and let them know you support “Raise the Age.” The bottom line for me is that we cannot continue sending our 17-year-olds into the adult system while the entire nation treats their youth more appropriately. It is our responsibility as stewards of our youth’s future to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18.
State Rep. Roger Hauck was first elected to the Michigan House in 2016. He represents the 99th District, which encompasses all of Isabella County and ten townships in Midland County.