News Release: Raise the Age Legislation Seeks a ‘Smart’ Approach to Juvenile Crime

December 1, 2015

(Lansing, Mich.) — Michigan would join 41 other states in the country that no longer automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults for a crime committed, according to legislation before the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning supported by Michigan Catholic Conference. The multi-bill package, which would also prohibit juveniles from being housed with adult prisoners, is supported by both Republicans and Democrats and pursues a “smart on crime” approach to criminal justice.

“Several recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, especially Miller v. Alabama, highlight how a juvenile’s cognitive development and ability to reason vastly differs from that of an adult,” said Michigan Catholic Conference Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy Tom Hickson. “The Catholic approach to crime and punishment is Restorative Justice, which assists victims while also focusing on rehabilitating the offender during their confinement rather than giving up on that person’s life. Where possible, efforts should be made to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and present an opportunity for youth to positively contribute to their communities upon release.”

Current law in Michigan requires a 17-year-old to be automatically prosecuted and sentenced as an adult for certain crimes. According to the proposed legislation, this age would be raised to 18. Prosecutors and judges, however, would still have the discretion to charge a juvenile as an adult if the conditions warrant. The proposed state measures would also prohibit incarcerated juveniles from being held within an adult facility. Current practice allows for juveniles to be held within such a facility, provided the youth is not within “sight and sound” of adult prisoners.

“Holding juveniles in segregation or isolation to avoid violating federal law is a clear indication of the need for this legislation,” said Hickson. “The psychological and emotional impact that segregation or isolation can have on an already troubled mind is unnecessary and counter-productive both for the state and for that human person’s condition. Every opportunity should be taken to focus on a child’s rehabilitation rather than allow for that person to become hardened and further exposed to criminal elements.”

House Bills 4947–4966 are likely to be addressed again by the committee next week.

Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

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