LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) today introduced bills that would classify individuals who are 17 years of age as juveniles for criminal offenses, rather than as adults. The legislation is part of a larger ‘Raise the Age’ bill package, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, that also aims to prohibit people under age 18 from being placed in adult prisons and jails.
Under current Michigan law, 17-year-olds are automatically prosecuted as adults if they get in trouble with the law, even for non-violent offenses.
“Seventeen-year-olds aren’t old enough to purchase cigarettes, lottery tickets, vote or serve in the military, but yet we have a law that states they’re old enough to be tried as an adult in the courtroom,” Sen. Santana said. “It isn’t right, and we’re denying our troubled youth an opportunity to reform themselves and do better.”
Sen. Santana’s legislation, Senate Bills 92, 95, and 102 would amend the:
Bills in the package are also designed to provide access to age-appropriate rehabilitation and to ensure juveniles are not incarcerated, or transported with, adults, and that the rules followed are consistent with federal laws.
Michigan, Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin are states that still automatically charge someone who is 17-years-old as adults, regardless of the crime, despite national and international laws stating that 18 is the age of adulthood. However, under the introduced legislation, teenagers who have committed serious crimes, including murder and rape, could still be prosecuted as adults.
Studies have shown that there is no evidence that prosecuting 17-year-olds in the adult prison system shows any rehabilitative advantage and, instead, actually causes many who are incarcerated to suffer severe mental and physical damage. According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, youth in adult prisons are at a higher risk for sexual assault, solitary confinement, restraint and suicide compared to their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.
Additionally, research proves that youth incarceration actually increases violent crime. Teens exiting the adult system are 34 percent more likely to reoffend, to reoffend sooner, and escalate to more violent offenses than their counterparts in the juvenile justice system.
“We should be rehabilitating our children into successful members of our society and helping them realize their potential to get their lives back on track,” Sen. Santana said. “The pipeline to prison needs to end and decades of bad policies that simply don’t work need to be reversed. It’s my intent to see that this legislation gets carried all the way to the governor’s desk so that we can make these long overdue, and necessary, reforms become reality in Michigan’s judicial system.”
The bills have been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
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