Senate panel passes bipartisan compromise on ‘Raise the Age’ legislation

By: - October 10, 2019 7:10 pm

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Michigan’s “Raise the Age” campaign scored big Thursday morning, as a Senate committee unanimously passed bipartisan legislation that will raise the age limit for an offender to be tried as a juvenile to 18 years old.

Michigan is one of just five outlier states — along with Missouri, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin — which regards 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, although Missisouri is set to change its law by January 2021. In every other state, offenders younger than 18 are charged as juveniles.

In April, both the state House and Senate passed their own bipartisan bill packages supporting the initiative. There were key differences between the two pieces of legislation, however, including a disagreement on where to house youth offenders. The 16 bills, which are a compromise between the two legislative bodies, did not end up addressing that question.

Column: Raise the Age could be a bipartisan win 100 years in the making

Supporters of the bills say that changing the definition of “adult” from 17 to 18 years old for criminal defendants is a step in the right direction for youth caught up in the criminal justice system.

Briana Moore, an advocate for the Raise the Age initiative, knows all too well the difference that one year can make. Moore got into a fight with other teenagers at the mall while she was still in high school, and ended up with a charge of misdemeanor assault and battery. She was only 17.

“Imagine me and my parents, like, ’What do you mean, you’re charging me as an adult at 17 years old?’ – That was a hard pill to swallow,” Moore said.

She had been moving back and forth from Colorado to Michigan at the time, and all the changes and stress had been taking a toll. Moore said if she would have gotten help and support instead of being pushed into the justice system for years to come, her path would have been very different.

Instead, Moore faced roadblock after roadblock because of her probation status. For starters, the assault charge prevented her from getting rehired at the fast food restaurant she had worked at in Colorado. Then, when applying to school and internships in Michigan, she had to write letters and submit to interviews just to defend her criminal history. The assault charge seemed to follow her around wherever she went, even more than a decade later.

Moore beat the odds regardless, graduating at the top of her undergraduate class at Oakland University and again for her master’s degree at Wayne State University. But it wasn’t easy, and she wants to make sure that no one – including her son, who was born last November* – has to go through what she endured.

“I feel like, as an adult, I’m still paying for the mistakes of a child,” Moore said. “At 17, you’re not an adult. … People think that [a year] might not be anything, but it’s everything.”

The Raise the Age legislation passed Thursday needed to happen a long time ago, Moore said, but she feels a great sense of relief that it finally has.

‘Raise the age’ criminal justice reform to get Senate hearing

“I’m sad that I was a victim of this ‘tough on crime’ policy, but I think we’re moving the right direction,” she said.

Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), also praised legislators for coming to an agreement. 

Gilda Z. Jacobs

“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,” Jacobs said in a statement.

The Raise the Age bills that passed committee Thursday mark the farthest the issue has ever gotten in the Legislature.

The package is sponsored by 10 Republicans and six Democrats. The key legislative compromises included in it include:

  • An agreement to maintain Michigan’s current law regarding incarcerated youth in adult facilities. The previous proposal sought to remove all youth from these facilities regardless of offense.
  • Modified funding language in the House package, which would have the state fund counties at 100% for all incarcerated 17-year-olds. A 50%-50% funding split between counties and the state for juveniles of all ages had previously been proposed.
  • An agreement to house the “Raise the Age” Fund in the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the State Court Administrative Office.
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

No testimony was given during the bill hearing, but cards of support from from Attorney General Dana Nessel, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, Michigan Association of Counties, Safe and Just Michigan, MLPP and more were read aloud prior to the vote.

“We expect that bipartisan momentum to continue until these bills reach the governor’s desk, and we hope she will act quickly to sign them into law when they do,” Jacobs said in a statement.

All 16 bills in the package received recommendation for immediate effect from the Senate Judiciary Committee members. They include:

  • HB 4133 sponsored by state Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mount Pleasant) would change the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and, in some instances, the location of juvenile detention.
  • HB 4134 sponsored by state Rep. Douglas Wozniak (R-Shelby Twp.) would change the age of juvenile in disposition of persons found not guilty by reason of insanity.
  • HB 4135 sponsored by state Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland) would raise the age eligibility for youthful trainee status to 18 years.
  • HB 4136 sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Twp.) would change the age of juvenile court jurisdiction in the Juvenile Diversion Act.
  • HB 4137 sponsored by state Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills) would modify the definition of an adult in Michigan’s indigent defense commission act.
  • HB 4138 sponsored by state Rep. Daire Rendon (R-Lake City) would change the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the Youth Rehabilitation Services Act.
  • HB 4139 sponsored by state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids) would revise the code of criminal procedure to change the age limit on procedures for sentencing juveniles prosecuted for personal protection order violation.
  • HB 4140 sponsored by state Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) would modify the detention of juveniles in certain circumstances.
  • HB 4141 sponsored by state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) would modify specified juvenile violation definition in probate code of 1939. 
  • HB 4142 sponsored by state Rep. Brian Elder (D-Bay City) would provide jurisdiction in the family division of circuit court for juveniles under age 18 arrested for certain offenses.
  • HB 4143 sponsored by state Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) would prohibit the placement of youth under 18 with adults during confinement, trial or transport.
  • HB 4144 sponsored by state Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming) would modify county juvenile justice services reimbursements.
  • HB 4145 sponsored by state Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) would preclude prejudication confinement of juveniles younger than 18 in jail.
  • HB 4146 sponsored by state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.) would provide for a “Raise the Age” fund.
  • HB 4443 sponsored by state Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton) would modify the age of offender for specified juvenile violations in the code of criminal procedure.
  • HB 4452 sponsored by state Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) would modify the age of offender for specified juvenile violations in the revised Judicature Act.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.