Lawmakers: Michigan should ‘raise the age’ for criminal prosecution

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Sens. Pete Lucido and Sylvia Santana discuss "raise the age" criminal justice reform legislation.

Lansing — Michigan lawmakers are renewing a push to “raise the age” for criminal prosecutions by no longer automatically treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Michigan is one of four states that still has the automatic age trigger for 17-year-olds who are not yet old enough to vote, supporters said Wednesday. They argued adult convictions can stigmatize minors, limit their ability to find jobs in the future and put them in dangerous situations behind bars.

“You don’t take a guppy and stick them into a shark tank,” said Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, a lead sponsor on a new bipartisan package in the upper chamber.

“When you take a 17-year-old and put him within the criminal justice system and put them in a jail with sophisticated criminals — hard-core criminals — you’ve taught the child more than the child needs to know.”

The proposal would not prohibit a 17-year-old from being tried as an adult if he or she is suspected of a violent crimes. Prosecutors could still seek an age waiver for minors in certain cases.

Lawmakers have debated similar legislation since 2015, but the new Senate plan seeks to overcome concerns by creating a “raise the age” fund in the state Treasury Department to defray costs for counties that would be forced to separate 17-year-olds from adults.

Other states that raised the age for minor prosecution did not incur significant costs, said sponsoring Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, but senators hope to put aside $30 million during the appropriations process “to make sure the money is available” if needed.

“We want to make sure there’s no exceptions and no excuses to making sure we get this done this time,” Santana said. “We want to make sure that 17-year-olds still have an opportunity in life. We want to make sure they can continue their lives after a nonviolent offense.”

A separate “raise the age” proposal passed out of a House committee last session but did not see a floor vote during a busy lame-duck session.

House GOP leadership on Tuesday announced a 2019 action plan that includes a renewed push for the legislation.

“By joining the vast majority of states that have raised the age for criminal prosecution from 17 to 18, we can work to turn 17-year-old offenders’ lives around and remove them from the dangerous cycle of recidivism,” says the House action plan.

“This is a smart, forward-thinking policy that will help troubled youth, taxpayers and local communities for the long term.”

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed