A package of bills in the state House would classify 17 year-olds as juveniles, rather than automatically treating them as adults.
Representatives and advocacy groups testified in favor of the bills at a hearing last week.
Briana Moore testified during the hearing. Moore was convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery at age 17 for being involved in a fight. She said that record has followed her for the rest of her life.
“As I encounter obstacles the label ‘criminal’ is ever present, making me question if I am out of my league in trying to better my life.”
Republican Representative Peter Lucido sponsored the bills. He said putting 17 year-olds in prison along with adult criminals isn’t right.
“Taking a juvenile that commits an adult act, and it might be the first time in their life, and charging them with a felony because they are 17 and because we can is not necessarily doing anything good for society.”
Ruben Martinez is with the Michigan State University Somora Research Institute. He recently wrote a report on the benefits of raising the age for juvenile court jurisdiction.
“It would cost taxpayers less in the long run because there are higher costs to keeping them in prison. It’s an increased probability of them going back to prison.”
The report also noted the change could lead to reductions in racial inequality. Martinez cites a 2012 Public Policy Associates report which found that youth of color made up 53% of 17 year-olds serving sentences in adult facilities.
The bills would still allow juveniles to be charged as adults under a waiver if they are charged with committing a felony. But the bills would stop 17 year-olds from automatically being charged as adults.
Some people at the hearing, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, raised concerns about whether the juvenile justice system had the funding to support 17 year-olds.
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