Deal reached to treat 17-year-old offenders as juveniles

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan legislative committee on Thursday backed bipartisan bills that would raise the age at which criminal defendants would be automatically treated as adults, following a compromise to resolve funding and other issues.

The unanimous votes suggest the bills will ultimately succeed and they came months after the Republican-led House and Senate approved earlier versions. A key component of the deal includes having the state pay the full amount of counties’ additional juvenile justice costs associated with raising the age from 16 to 17 years old for an offender’s case to be handled by the juvenile system.

The maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction is 17 in 45 states, while Missouri’s law increasing the age to 17 will take effect in 2021. Michigan’s proposed change would take effect in October 2021.

Senate Judiciary and Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Peter Lucido, a Republican from Macomb County’s Shelby Township, said it is “not logical” to treat 17-year-old defendants as adults when they are defined as minors in so many other parts of state law.

“You’ve got to give that youth a chance when they make a mistake, with services that are available,” said Lucido, a former probation officer. “In the adult system, it’s a punitive system in nature. You’ll ultimately reduce recidivism by doing what we’re doing.”

Prosecutors could still automatically try 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for certain violent offenses, such as murder and rape. As part of the agreement, senators kept intact the ability for juveniles convicted as adults to be housed in adult prisons and jails if they are physically separated from older inmates.

The Legislature could send the measures to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in coming weeks.

“We are supportive of the overall goal of the legislation and are reviewing the substitutes that were just adopted in committee this morning,” said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.

The Michigan League for Public Policy, an advocate for the bills, thanked GOP legislative leaders and various bill sponsors for being willing to negotiate and compromise.

“By fixing this outdated and ineffective law, one of the very last of its kind in the country, policymakers can improve child well-being, kids’ academic and career opportunities, public safety, racial equity, the future of our local communities and economies, and more,” said president and CEO Gilda Jacobs.

Counties, which split juvenile justice costs 50-50 with the state, previously had concerns that they could face an unconstitutional unfunded mandate if the state did not commit to fully funding the additional cost of bring 17-year-olds into the system.

“It was critical to get the funding sources right so that we can provide excellent treatment and services to this population without negatively impacting those youths we currently serve. I think the Legislature did that today,” said Meghann Keit, a lobbyist for the Michigan Association of Counties.

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