House OKs treating 17-year-old offenders as juveniles while financial concerns linger

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A push to change how Michigan treats 17-year-olds in its criminal justice system was approved Tuesday by the state House despite financial concerns that continue to follow the proposals.

The bipartisan bills would begin classifying most 17-year-olds accused of crimes as juveniles. Michigan is one of five states that automatically treat 17-year-olds as adults. The state House and the state Senate have reached a “consensus” on the proposed change, lawmakers said.

Rep. Graham Filler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which voted in favor of so-called "raise the age" bills on Tuesday.

But, during a House committee meeting Tuesday morning, an official with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State Budget Office questioned the financial implications of the proposals.   

While the bills require the state to reimburse local governments for costs related to handling 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile system, they don’t ensure the reimbursement costs are reasonable, said Bethany Wicksall, director of legislative and external affairs for the State Budget Office.

“We’re a little concerned about long-term cost containment,” Wicksall told the committee.

Afterward, Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday morning’s committee meeting was the first time he had heard the concerns. Filler’s committee voted to send the bills to the full House, which approved them later in the day.

“I feel like this should have been done four or six years ago, but it is very difficult to get all the stakeholders on board,” Filler said. “…It’s really good for the state of Michigan."

The House approved most bills with large bipartisan margins of support. The closest vote, 98-10, involved requiring the state to reimburse juvenile justice programs for services provided to people between 17 and 18 years of age.

Before the votes, House Speaker Lee Chatfied, R-Levering, said the House and Senate had reached a ”consensus” on several issues related to the so-called "raise the age" legislation.

As for Whitmer’s stance, Chatfield said, “To the best of my knowledge, she is in favor of the intention of the bill"

The administration supports the “overall goal” of the legislation and is reviewing the new versions of the bills, Whitmer’s spokesperson Tiffany Brown said.

Similar bills to the House-approved ones are awaiting votes in the Senate. The Senate votes could happen as early as Wednesday.  

If 17-year-olds move to the juvenile system, an increase of 7,564 juvenile cases is expected to occur in Michigan, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. From July 2015 to July 2016, there were 29,959 juvenile cases overall.

The question of how local governments would handle the increased costs related to a jump in juvenile cases handled in family court and county jails has long been a point of division. Under the newly revised bills, beginning Oct. 1, 2021, when the change would take effect, the state would effectively pick up the tab, paying 100% of the costs related to providing services to individuals between the age of 17 and 18.

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, told the House committee there aren’t rehabilitative or counseling programs that will shift a 17-year-old to “doing the right thing” once the 17-year-old is in the adult criminal  justice system.

“We have a cost that’s insurmountable in our budgets with criminals that were taught crimes by other criminals,” Lucido said.

Regardless of whether the bills are enacted, some juveniles who commit serious crimes, including murder and rape, can still be treated as adults under state law.

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