A bill that would place 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system instead of the adult criminal court system, barring heinous crimes, passed the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on Thursday. The Raise the Age bill is sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township.
Lucido told The Center Square that if a 17-year-old is considered a child in terms of family court, then that person shouldn’t be considered an adult in the criminal court.
“We’re not taking a 17-year old and putting him in prison with sharks that are going to make him worse as a human being instead of better,” Lucido said.
Lucido said the bill would assist individuals who make a one-time petty mistake such as larceny from paying an inordinate penalty.
“We don’t want them to have a criminal conviction that will stigmatize them for the rest of their lives and cause taxpayers to pay more money,” Lucido said, adding that the measure allows prosecutors to enter the 17-year-olds into the adult system if they’ve committed a heinous crime, such as murder or bank robbery.
Lucido said the juvenile system can better incorporate the family to help rehabilitate the child.
Michigan is one of five states, including Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin, that automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults. Missouri is raising that age to 18 in January 2021.
Nina Bala, associate director of criminal justice and civil liberties at The R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public research organization, told The Center Square that 17-year-olds aren’t considered adults for any other purpose.
“They can’t join the army, buy a lottery ticket, so they are adults only for this purpose, which is pretty strange,” Bala said. “We know from research that’s not good policy in terms of development and recidivism.”
Bala said young people, for the most part, grow out of criminal behavior, which is one reason the juvenile justice system is separate from the adult system.
“Because we know that young people are immature and irresponsible,” Bala said. “We see them as less culpable for their behavior than adults because they’re still learning. That’s why even the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has said in cases that children are different and should be treated differently than adults.”
Bala said keeping 17-year-olds in the juvenile system means they have a better chance of succeeding and that childhood mistakes often don’t reflect that person’s future potential.
Bala cited research that youth are often vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse in adult facilities.
“We know that when we put kids in the adult system, they tend to do very badly there,” Bala said. “For their own health and the community’s health, it’s not a good place for a kid to be.”
The bill will now be sent to the Senate floor.