Michigan Raises the Age, Includes 17-Year-Olds in Juvenile Justice System

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds up the signed copy of Michigan’s Raise the Age law, which ends the state’s practice of treating all 17-year-olds as adults. Photo: Twitter

Michigan, one of the last four states to consider all 17-year-olds to be adults in the eyes of the law, will soon raise its age of jurisdiction to 18.

“Today I signed the bipartisan “Raise the Age” legislative package, which raises the age of who is considered an adult under the criminal justice system from 17 to 18 years old,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), in a tweet posted this afternoon. “I’m proud that we’re ending the unjust practice of charging & punishing our children as adults.”

Every state, including Michigan has some legal pathway to try youths in adult court, generally through the process of transferring them. Some states permit prosecutors to automatically file charges in adult court for certain offenses, though most states either have laws mandating transfer for certain offenses or allow judges to make the call.

But the “Raise the Age” movement of the past decade has almost entirely ended the practice of viewing all youth of a certain age younger than 18 to be adults when it comes to crime and delinquency. Ten years ago, 14 states treated all 17-year-olds as adults, with a handful – Connecticut, New York and North Carolina – also including 16-year-olds as well.

The Michigan legislation, which takes effect in 2021, leaves Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin as the only three states that consider all 17-year-olds to be adults when it comes to consequences of arrest.

The bill almost made it through the legislative process last year, but judiciary committees in both chambers ran out of time in a season where they contemplated legislation in reaction to the Larry Nasser scandal at Michigan State University. This year, the plan once both the House and Senate approved the bill was to have its signage be a bipartisan moment following a tough budget battle in the state.

“Despite the strong political polarization that permeates our society, it’s awesome to see our Governor and legislature come together in a bipartisan manner to make an important policy change for kids,” said Jason Smith, director of youth justice policy for the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “Everyone in Michigan should be proud today.”

The stickiest policy to hammer out with Raise the Age, as is often the case, was how to ensure the necessary changes at the local level were paid for. The chambers agreed on a plan that gradually expands the state’s Child Care Fund (CCF) to include funding for 17-year-olds in the county’s juvenile systems, and establishes a state “Raise the Age” fund for counties to claim non-CCF reimbursable activities and services.

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