Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently signed legislation raising the age of those seen as adults by the criminal justice system. The policy, known as “Raise The Age,” is set to take effect in October of 2021.
Under former Michigan law, 17-year-olds were automatically tried as adults. The new legislation packet raises that age to 18. In passing this bill, Michigan joins nearly every other criminal justice system in the nation, leaving only Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin as the only three states trying all 16 and 17-year-olds as adults.
The bill received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and is being celebrated by organizations across the political spectrum. Law enforcement, prosecutors, civil liberties groups, businesses, and communities throughout the state also offered support for the legislation, many noting the systemic problems around recidivism and health risks for those sentenced as adults at a young age.
All states still maintain a pathway for some youths to be tried as adults, whether for specific crimes or at a judge’s discretion. Statistically, however, blanketly charging younger individuals in this way leads to higher incarceration rates and reduced opportunities in the community.
Juvenile charges are not technically criminal convictions, and this new legislation helps those going through juvenile adjudication to avoid a public criminal record. In turn, this reduces the long-term effects of the youth-to-prison cycle with a system that focuses on rehabilitation over incarceration.
Budgetary concerns slowed the process, but an agreement was made to expand the state’s Child Care Fund (CCF) to cover the costs of juvenile systems, and to create a Raise The State program for counties claim reimbursements for non-CCF services and activities. The agreement covers county costs for three years, and calls for the funding to be reevaluated at the end of the term.
Lawmakers are celebrating this legislation as a big victory, with Governor Whitmer tweeting that she is “proud that we’re ending the unjust practice of charging & punishing our children as adults.”
Similarly, attorney and former probation officer, Senator Peter Lucido (R. Shelby Township) provided a hopeful statement. He was quoted in the Detroit Free Press:
“This long-overdue reform will ensure youth who are charged with criminal acts will, in most cases, be treated as the children they are. While they will still be held accountable for their actions, they also will have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and have a better chance of becoming productive members of society.”
Senator Lucido was also a sponsor of the legislation package, and has been vocal in his support.
Since 2007, there has been a drastic push among many states to raise the age for adult charges to 18, and with the passage of this bill, Michigan joins 46 other states in a modern view of juvenile justice. This is a big step forward, and stands to help young people in communities around the state have a second chance.