Michigan can fix this injustice to 17-year-olds | Opinion
Over the course of our NFL careers, we have had the privilege of playing in some great American cities. All of these places have their own unique charm and character, but they also have similar challenges — poverty, homelessness, struggling schools, high crime and incarceration rates, and more. And while states across the country continue to look for policy solutions to address these issues, Michigan is woefully behind on a major and simple criminal justice reform — raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction.
Michigan is one of only four states in the country — and the only state among any stops in our professional careers — to still treat all 17-year-old kids as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of their offense. In Michigan, you have to be 18-years-old to vote, serve in the military, buy a lottery ticket or sign a contract. But you can be charged, tried and even incarcerated as an adult at 17. That may finally change in Michigan as "raise the age" bills made their way through the Legislature this week.
Research shows that teenagers are developmentally different from adults and that the ability to reason and exercise judgment improves into a person’s mid-twenties. Teens are more inclined to take risks, act impulsively and succumb to peer pressure. Young people are also more responsive to rehabilitation and learning better behavior, but in order to make these changes and turn their lives around, they need access to age-appropriate services like those provided in the juvenile justice system.
As an athlete, data and statistics often dictate your success or failure. And in looking at the numbers, failure — or even danger and death — are exactly what Michigan 17-year-olds are currently being sentenced to in the state’s criminal justice system.
National research shows that 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 peers in the juvenile justice system. Youth in adult prisons are also at higher risk for solitary confinement and restraint.
Treating kids as adults also harms our society as a whole. Youth prosecuted as adults are 34% more likely to reoffend — and sooner and with more violent crimes — than youth in the juvenile justice system and earn 40% less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system, which in turn hurts Michigan’s economy and the state budget. And adult convictions lead to lifelong barriers in housing, employment, and education.
As African Americans who discovered the outlet of sports to build better lives, and who played in big cities that can be difficult places for kids of color, we know that raise the age is one more step forward in addressing the racial inequities in our criminal justice system. Just like many other justice issues, kids of color are overrepresented, with young people of color making up 53% of 17-year-olds entering Michigan’s state corrections system while only being 23% of the total 17-year-old population.
With so much fan support over our careers, we will always have love for the communities we played in, the people who rooted for us, and the kids who looked up to us. And we understand the importance of giving back and standing up for what’s right. We have been blessed with the ability to achieve our dreams of playing in the NFL and to give thanks for that, we want to help as many people as possible—especially kids. Raising the age in Michigan and giving the state’s 17-year-olds a better chance at a happier, healthier life is one way to do that, and we applaud the state Legislature for acting on this important issue.
Anquan Boldin, a former Detroit Lion, is co-founder of Players Coalition, a former NFL player and 2015 Walter Payton Man of Year. Devin McCourty is a board member of the Players Coalition Governing Board, a 3-time Super Bowl champion and safety for the New England Patriots. Jason McCourty is a Players Coalition member, a 2019 Super Bowl champion and cornerback for the New England Patriots