Home News Center Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bill Package with Focus on Building an Age-Appropriate System

Michigan Lawmakers Introduce Bill Package with Focus on Building an Age-Appropriate System

October 26, 2015
Michelle Weemhoff

In the past ten years, over 20,000 young people under 18 have been convicted as adults, mostly for non-violent offenses with no prior juvenile record. According to the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency’s (MCCD) report, Youth Behind Bars, over half of these youth were placed in adult jails or prisons, where they receive little to no education, mental health or family services. Once confined, youth are more likely to be violently attacked, sexually assaulted, languish in isolation or attempt suicide. The state of Michigan is even facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of youth alleging sexual victimization while in prison.

To address this grave issue, 14 state lawmakers introduced a 21-bill package on October 7, 2015. With bipartisan, bicameral support, this package aims to reform Michigan’s juvenile justice system, focusing on raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 and permitting youth access to age-appropriate rehabilitative services. Other bills in the package would also prohibit youth under 18 from being placed in adult jails or prisons.

Across the country, states are realizing that policies to “get tough on kids” are inherently flawed and must be changed. In the past five years, more than half of the states reversed harsh policies, including 35 pieces of legislation in 19 different states in 2015 alone.

Michigan remains one of nine states that automatically charges 17-year-olds as adults.

Since the spring, the Michigan Legislature’s Youth in Prison Work Group has researched numerous policy recommendations aimed at reducing youth incarceration and enhancing developmentally-appropriate services. The resulting legislative package addresses the following issues:

  1. Increasing the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old.
  1. Increasing the rate at which the state reimburses local jurisdictions for qualifying community-based youth services by 25 percent.
  1. Prohibiting the placement of youth under 18 in adult jails and prisons, and providing access to age-appropriate rehabilitation.
  1. Omitting certain “specified juvenile offenses,” which prosecutors are currently permitted to directly file in criminal court, bypassing the juvenile court altogether.
  1. Requiring equal consideration of all mitigating factors - including the level of culpability and history of treatment instead of only seriousness of the offense and history of offending - prior to waiving jurisdiction in traditional juvenile waiver cases.
  1. Requiring public monitoring and oversight of youth under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) who entered for an offense committed prior to turning 18 years old.
  1. Restricting the use of solitary confinement for youth under 18 in prison.
  1. Establishing a family advisory board within the MDOC to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims.

“This package of bills has not been arrived at lightly,” said Representative Howrylak (R-Troy). “Rather, our judges, prosecutors, counties, the Department of Corrections and groups, including MCCD and the Mental Health Association, have contributed extensively. These combined perspectives have resulted in legislation which rightly acknowledges our purposes for incarceration, the humanity of our youth, and their potential to contribute successfully in society if treated appropriately and compassionately.”

The bill package coincides with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s proclamation that October 2015 is Youth Justice Awareness Month (YJAM). In his statement, he acknowledges that youth are developmentally different than adults and would be best served within their families and communities.

In the spirit of YJAM, over 500 individuals and organizations have endorsed the Youth Justice Statement of Principles, which urges Michigan lawmakers to take action so that all youth under 18 to have access to developmentally-appropriate, community-based and family-centered services outside of the corrections system.

To endorse the statement of principles or receive updates about the campaign, visit www.RaiseTheAgeMI.org. For more information about MCCD, visit www.miccd.org

Michelle Weemhoff, M.S.W. is the Deputy Director for the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (an NJJN member). Specializing in advocacy, community organizing and public policy development, Michelle has advanced reform in multiple states to improve court proceedings and legal representation, expand alternatives to detention and incarceration, and end the practice of sentencing youth as adults. She has also presented at state and national conferences, as well as co-authored numerous publications, to promote strategies that incorporate youth development principles into policy and practice. Michelle previously worked as the Public Defense Task Force Coordinator at the Campaign for Justice and led the Health and Justice for Youth Campaign at Physicians for Human Rights. Additionally, she serves as the Lead Youth Justice Consultant to the Youth Transition Funders Group.  

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