Plan ends policy requiring 17-year-olds to be treated as adults in court
The House Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved state Rep. Michael Webber’s plan to improve the way 17-year-olds are treated in Michigan’s criminal justice system.
Webber, who sponsored the plan alongside a bipartisan group of his colleagues, said Michigan is one of just four states still requiring all 17-year-olds to be prosecuted as adults – even those who commit the most minor offenses. He said eliminating this outdated practice will help rehabilitate young offenders and reduce the likelihood of them breaking the law again in the future.
“The law says 17-year-olds are not mature enough to serve on juries, join the military or live on their own, but they all must be punished as adults if they commit a crime in Michigan,” Webber said. “Research shows 17-year-olds sentenced in juvenile courts are much less likely to re-offend than older teens who go through adult court. Reforming our system to give these kids access to the treatment programs available in juvenile court is best.”
The proposal would raise the age at which individuals are considered adults for the purposes of prosecuting and adjudicating criminal offenses, allowing 17-year-olds to be treated as minors within the juvenile system in most circumstances beginning Oct. 1, 2021. Prosecutors would continue to have discretion, allowing them to waive minors who commit violent crimes into the adult system when appropriate.
The measure also includes a funding plan to ensure local communities do not incur any additional costs associated with keeping 17-year-old offenders in the juvenile system, which is administered at the local level. Funding was the key sticking point that halted similar reform efforts in the past.
Webber said the proposal is expected to save public tax dollars over time. Other states that have raised the age have downsized their juvenile justice systems and lowered both short-term and long-term costs. Including 17-year-olds in the juvenile system has been shown to reduce reoffending by 34 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
House Bills 4133-46, 4443 and 4452 now move to the full House for consideration.