Legislators are studying a package of more than 20 bills that would raise the age of juveniles who are treated as adults when they commit certain crimes. This is an important step in the quest to reform Michigan’s criminal justice system.
The law currently considers defendants older than 17 as adults. The legislation raises the age to 18.
The mission in dealing with juveniles should be to rehabilitate, not simply to punish. But teens who are tried and sentenced as adults rarely leave prison as rehabilitated, productive citizens. Too often, the system turns out more hardened criminals.
Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, a sponsor of the legislation, says the large number of bills are needed because changes must be made in many areas of state and local law, from the criminal code of procedures and sentencing guidelines to the types of crimes that are committed.
He stresses that under the package, juveniles could still be treated as adults when charged with serious crimes, such as rape and murder.
The package also requires defendants under 17 to be transferred to the family division of Circuit Court, and it would change the criteria for judges in the automatic sentencing of juveniles as adults for certain crimes. It would also keep juveniles out of adult prisons.
Some local officials are concerned the bills would create added expenses for counties, which are responsible for administering juvenile justice. The bills raise the state reimbursement to counties for administering juvenile justice programs to 75 percent from 50 percent of the costs. More resources may be needed to keep this from becoming an unfunded mandate.
Gov. Rick Snyder extensively addressed juvenile crime in his criminal justice initiative, which he rolled out earlier this year, but is waiting for more study before endorsing this package.
The bills are in a House committee. The Senate has been less supported of sentencing reforms.
But what Michigan has been doing in terms of juvenile justice is not working.
If properly written, the package could fit well into an overall plan to restructure sentencing in Michigan to make it work better for public safety, and for defendants. There is also an important cost savings component. If juveniles can be rehabilitated, it would save the state in terms of future crime and imprisonment.
This package deserves consideration.