Editorial: Raise the age for locking up kids with adults

The Detroit News
This Friday, May 26, 2017 shows a unit inside Franklin Correctional Center in Bunn, N.C. The release of dozens of former juvenile lifers, set in motion by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling early in 2016, raises a host of questions about how those freed will navigate life on the outside.

In Michigan, a 17-year-old can't vote, buy alcohol or marry without his parent's permission. But these teens can be sent to an adult prison to live among dangerous felons for a variety of lower-level crimes.

Legislation that was aired in the state House this week would keep 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, except in the most extreme cases. Michigan is just one of four states that allows those older teens to be treated as adults.

The Raise the Age act should be passed.

The bill would:

  • Raise the age for juvenile jurisdiction to 18, and provide 17-year-olds with all of the services available to other non-adult defendants.
  • Keep those under 18 out of adult prison and provide them with age appropriate rehabilitation treatment.
  • Give judges far more discretion in waiving defendants out of juvenile court.

These are common sense measures that will give youthful offenders a greater opportunity to straighten out their lives. That serves the best interests of both the defendant and society.

When sent to adult prisons, youthful convicts face a far greater chance of being sexually abused and subjected to other forms of violence. Too often they become slaves of older prisoners.

They are also more likely to return to prison after their release.

A corrections system should be focused on correcting behavior, not simply locking away criminals.

Seventeen is still too young to automatically treat a convict as an adult. Judges should have the discretion to consider individual factors in deciding the right path for each defendant.

The state is making considerable progress in reforming its corrections system, with the goal of locking up fewer people, keeping them locked up for shorter periods of time, and assuring that when they leave prison they are no longer a threat to society.

The Raise the Age bill furthers that mission. It should be passed and sent to the governor for his signature.