Opinion | Time to raise the age for juvenile justice in Michigan

State Rep. Graham Filler, R- DeWitt, is a former assistant attorney general. He now serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

 

Today, 17-year-olds can’t vote, sign legal contracts or serve on juries in Michigan. They aren’t considered adults – except when it comes to our criminal justice system.

Michigan is one of the very last states clinging to an outdated policy that treats all 17-year-olds as adults in court, even those who commit the most minor of offenses.

It’s time to end this distinction and “Raise the Age” for juvenile justice in Michigan.

Next week, the House Judiciary Committee will begin hearing testimony on a bipartisan solution that would keep most 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile justice system, allowing them to receive age-appropriate rehabilitation services and access critical educational and technical training opportunities.

I want to be clear that this plan, which I helped sponsor, does not prevent minors who commit violent crimes from being prosecuted as adults. Prosecutors will continue to have some discretion, allowing them to place minors who commit violent crimes into the adult system when it’s appropriate.

But as a former assistant attorney general, I truly believe that teenagers – particularly those who are first-time, non-violent offenders – deserve a chance to straighten out their lives.

Sending young, non-violent offenders to live among dangerous felons in prison creates a harmful situation that can have lasting negative consequences for the teens as well as society as a whole.

A tremendous amount of research clearly shows that placing 17-year-olds in adult prison is harmful to their psychological development and hinders their ability to re-enter society and lead successful, productive lives.

Teenagers in prison face a greater chance of being sexually assaulted and subjected to other forms of violence. They also are more likely to attempt suicide.

Older teens fare much better long term when they are sent through the juvenile justice system, which is better equipped to educate, protect and rehabilitate kids so they can grow into responsible and productive adults.

Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile system has been shown to reduce reoffending by 34 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Other states that have raised the age have downsized their juvenile justice systems and lowered both short-term and long-term costs.

Over time, this will make our neighborhoods safer and allow some of the taxpayer dollars currently spent on prisons to be invested in schools, roads and other critical services.

Raising the age of juvenile justice in Michigan would produce better outcomes for teenagers, improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars.

It’s the right thing to do.

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Comments

duane
Wed, 04/03/2019 - 11:15pm

Mr. Filler,
First we heard that if a an 18 year old could die for their country they should have the right to vote, now you are telling us that a 17 year old doesn't have the capacity to be judged and held fully accountable for their actions, but we are being told [by Democrats to lower the voting age because] 16 year old[s] are capable to judge the actions and statements of others when they enter a voting booth.

Mr. Filler which is it, a 17 year old is too immature to be fully accountable for their actions [for the suffering of their victims] or a 16 year old is savvy enough to decide on who should be AG, Governor, President, how much we should be taxed, or possibly what the drinking age should be?

Kevin Grand
Thu, 04/04/2019 - 6:44am

I've read your proposed changes.

I, and I'll wager a number of reasonably intelligent Michiganians, would strong disagree on what you call "non-violent", Rep. Filler.

I don't know if actually read your own bill, but these are just some of the crimes that your proposed bill no longer wants to take into account ( PA 288, Sec 2d, Subsection 9a through c...this is dry stuff people, bear with me):

"(9) As used in this section, “specified juvenile violation” means any of the following:

(a) A violation of section 72, 83, 86, 89, 91, 316, 317, 349, 520b, 529, 529a, or 531 of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.72, 750.83, 750.86, 750.89, 750.91, 750.316, 750.317, 750.349, 750.520b, 750.529, 750.529a, and 750.531.

(b) A violation of section 84 or 110a(2) of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.84 and 750.110a, if the juvenile is armed with a dangerous weapon. As used in this subdivision, “dangerous weapon” means 1 or more of the following:

(i) A loaded or unloaded firearm, whether operable or inoperable.

(ii) A knife, stabbing instrument, brass knuckles, blackjack, club, or other object specifically designed or customarily carried or possessed for use as a weapon.

(iii) An object that is likely to cause death or bodily injury when used as a weapon and that is used as a weapon or carried or possessed for use as a weapon.

(iv) An object or device that is used or fashioned in a manner to lead a person to believe the object or device is an object or device described in subparagraphs (i) to (iii).

(c) A violation of section 186a of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.186a, regarding escape or attempted escape from a juvenile facility, but only if the juvenile facility from which the juvenile escaped or attempted to escape was 1 of the following:

(i) A high-security or medium-security facility operated by the family independence agency or a county juvenile agency.

(ii) A high-security facility operated by a private agency under contract with the family independence agency or a county juvenile agency."

Removing the aforementioned laws effectively binds the Prosecutors' hands and ties in neatly with your apparent desire to place dangerous people back onto the street.

What can possibly go wrong?

Donald Baranski
Thu, 04/04/2019 - 2:59pm

I represented juveniles for 14 years as a court appointed attorney. It is an absolute travesty to hold 17 year olds to the adult standard in criminal court. It make a lot more sense to treat them as the youthful offenders that they are and given them treatment and education rather than punishment and to be ostracized.

duane
Thu, 04/04/2019 - 7:17pm

For me the 'travesty' is your seeming to ignore the impact of the actions that cause a 17 year old to become a 'criminal' in the eyes of the law.
Your disregard of the consequences suffered by the victims of those actions gives the impression that they are not a concern, that they deserve no considerations while 'treatment' and 'education' is to be provide to the criminal.
For me a one sided solution is not a solution, but a divide, a barrier preventing a community taking ownership of a solution. It is why see no change in results because no solution is put into action.

Eddie Hejka
Thu, 04/04/2019 - 5:19pm

Thank you! This reform is long overdue.

whamm511
Sat, 04/06/2019 - 10:23pm

Hear! Hear!! About D*mn time someone saw the sense in this proposal!! I support this effort wholeheartedly!!

Ron J Stefanski
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 11:17am

I’m a firm believer in raising the age for juvenile justice. I also believe judges need more discretion in cases of juvenile crime. Why?

In 1991 my grandmother was murdered by a 14 year old in broad daylight. Following his adjudication there was a move to treat younger offenders as adults but in retrospect this serves no one. For added context, prior to the Supreme Court Gault case in the 1960s, judges had more discretion in these cases. However, after Gault we made it more difficult for judges to measure out impactful justice that could alter a juveniles path.

Few things are worse than burying a loved one who was brutalized and murdered. But subjecting the perpetrator to a straight jacket form of justice doesn’t make it better, but worse.

Healing and feeling better will only result from more thoughtful juvenile justice and additional measures to ensure young people are guided down the right path early on, well before disaster strikes.

duane
Mon, 04/08/2019 - 9:49pm

I am sorry you and your family had to experience such a tragedy. What I would like to try to understand your perspective.

What do you see as justice; is it about a consequence to the perpetrator, an opportunity to force a change of life [education, moral/ethical principles, learning of empathy for others], to protect others in society, an opportunity to assess the perpetrator and their capacity to control their impulses? I ask this because I have yet to hear any weighting of the individual [criminal] on how they [actions, judgements, emotions, education, etc.] are treated, how they receive 'justice', how victims are considered.

Ron J Stefanski
Sun, 04/07/2019 - 11:17am

I’m a firm believer in raising the age for juvenile justice. I also believe judges need more discretion in cases of juvenile crime. Why?

In 1991 my grandmother was murdered by a 14 year old in broad daylight. Following his adjudication there was a move to treat younger offenders as adults but in retrospect this serves no one. For added context, prior to the Supreme Court Gault case in the 1960s, judges had more discretion in these cases. However, after Gault we made it more difficult for judges to measure out impactful justice that could alter a juveniles path.

Few things are worse than burying a loved one who was brutalized and murdered. But subjecting the perpetrator to a straight jacket form of justice doesn’t make it better, but worse.

Healing and feeling better will only result from more thoughtful juvenile justice and additional measures to ensure young people are guided down the right path early on, well before disaster strikes.