LANSING, Mich. — The criminal justice system in Michigan no longer automatically views 17-year-olds as adults thanks to Raise the Age legislation that went into effect on Oct. 1.
"Michigan was one of only four states in the entire country that automatically prosecuted all 17-year-olds as adults, no matter what their offense," said executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice Jason Smith.
The state of Michigan has joined 46 other states and now draws the line of who is considered an adult by the justice system at the age of 18.
"We were doing a disservice to 17-year-olds by placing them in a system that's really designed for adults and that doesn't matter if it's adult prisons or jails. Which not only have treatment that's not designed for kids but is also dangerous," Smith said.
Chuck Baker is the director of the Jackson County Youth Center. It's a juvenile detention center and treatment facility that houses boys and girls ages 11-years-old to 17-years-old. He says they are a small facility and since the Raise the Age legislation was implemented, they've seen some changes.
He says, since Oct. 1, over 20 percent of their admissions have been 17-year-olds. And they're now working with a larger age gap between the 11-year-olds and the 17-year-olds and with juveniles who have committed different sorts of offenses.
"A lot of times with the 17-year-olds with their lodged on more serious offenses. So they may be in for carjacking or carrying weapons or shootings, you know, things like that. Whereas some of our younger offenders are in for you know, probation violations, domestic violence, certainly, you know, offenses that are serious, but not nearly as serious as the 17-year-olds," Baker said.
He says they also see challenges with trying to educate all the juveniles because of different learning levels.
In Ingham County, Deputy Circuit Court Administrator Scott LeRoy oversees the juvenile division and believes Raise the Age is a good thing.
"The juvenile system is about rehabilitation. Everything we know about brain development with youth supports people who are 17 being in a system that's more rehabilitative than punitive. And so this bubble of kids that now are being transferred to the juvenile system are receiving, in my opinion, better services aimed at youth," LeRoy said.
He says the changes didn't make a huge impact because they had time to build out their system and develop new programming.
"We're lucky to have the juvenile justice millage. And so we already had the capacity to bring on the new 17-year-olds, we had enough time to plan," he said.
The state now has to reimburse all of the cost of providing juvenile justice services to those who were 17-years-old when the offense occurred.
"The biggest impact would have been the cases that were transferred to us from the adult system," LeRoy said.
Once raise the age went into effect, half of the individuals brought to the juvenile court were 17 at the time of their offenses.
"We did see this large amount of kids being transferred. And so our judges have done a lot of extra Work. Our support staff has done a lot of extra work getting those families and kids transferred over to the juvenile division," LeRoy said.
Authorities in other counties including Clinton and Hillsdale say they have adjusted well with minimum impact. Additional programming has been put into place and they are prepared for whatever happens.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation on Tuesday that adds clarity to a portion of the Raise the Age legislation. These revisions still allow 17-year-olds who commit violent criminal offenses to be treated as adults.
When the bill was first passed in 2019, juvenile courts could have lost jurisdiction over 17-year-olds who committed a crime but turned 18 during the legal process. Now Senate Bill 683 clears that up. It extends the jurisdiction timeline that juvenile courts have to work with someone under the age of 18 who commits a crime.
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