Prosecuting youth as adults is harmful to children, threatens public safety, and is expensive. Most states recognize this and treat offenders under the age of 18 as juveniles. Unfortunately, Michigan is one of the few that automatically send 17-year-olds into the criminal justice system.
“The evidence is clear that young people are more likely to turn their lives around in the youth justice system than in adult prisons and jails,” said Dr. Paul Elam, President of Public Policy Associates, Inc. “This state has the youth justice system leadership in place to serve all of our teenagers in a cost-effective way, and it’s time for the Legislature to join other states and raise the age for adult adjudication.”
While some youth are processed as adults at age 16 or younger, 95 percent of all the youth entering adult jail, prison, or probation were 17 years old at the time of their offense. Most of these 17-year-olds entering the criminal justice system were charged with nonviolent offenses.
Research shows the adolescent brain is still developing and that young people are more likely than adults to make impulsive decisions without considering the consequences. Programs tailored to juveniles are better suited to support their rehabilitation, while the prison experience is more likely to be disruptive, Dr. Elam said.
For over a decade, Michigan has been working to adopt more effective youth justice approaches that allow the system to absorb 17-year-old youth. A new study, Raising the Age: Shifting to a More Effective Juvenile Justice System by the Justice Policy Institute, demonstrates that states have successfully reduced the number of youth in adult detention, kept youth safe, enhanced public safety, and kept costs under control.
Key findings from the report:
- Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts saw juvenile crime decline more than the national average.
- In Massachusetts, the actual costs of raising the age were 37 percent less than the projected costs.
- North Carolina’s Division of Juvenile Justice generated $44 million in cost savings over the past decade.
- In Illinois the projected 35 percent increase in youth in the juvenile justice system because of raising the age never materialized.
Several Michigan counties, including Washtenaw, Wayne, Berrien, and Midland,already have diversion models to help manage raising the age without seeing costs rise significantly. These models divert more young people from the justice system by connecting them to services to address underlying issues that led to youth offenses.
PPA is a Lansing, Michigan-based firm that provides clients in Michigan and across the country with research and strategic consultation to inform the development of effective policies and programs in the areas of education and workforce development, safety and justice, and healthy communities. For more information about PPA’s nationally renowned work in juvenile justice policy, contact Dr. Elam at firstname.lastname@example.org.