‘Raise the Age’ juvenile justice reform headed for governor’s desk

By: - October 16, 2019 5:49 pm

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Long-awaited “Raise the Age” juvenile justice reform bills were fast-tracked through the Senate Wednesday morning, following bipartisan compromises. The final package would raise the age limit for an offender to be tried as a juvenile from 17 to 18 years old, is expected to be on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk as soon as Thursday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Casey Hull

“We are supportive of the overall goal of the legislation and will conduct further review of the legislation,” Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said in an email Wednesday.

Michigan is one of just five states — along with Missouri, Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin — which treats 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, with Missouri set to change its law by January 2021. 

The chambers passed bills in the spring and lawmakers hammered out compromises this month. Legislation began moving from committees last week and achieved final passage in the Legislature on Wednesday. The combination of bills from both legislative bodies totals 18, with 11 Republicans and seven Democrats as the main bill sponsors.

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

In a nutshell, the laws will accomplish three main goals:

  • Change the definition of “adult” in the criminal justice system from 17 to 18 years old.
  • Establish funding to ensure that services in the juvenile justice system are accessible to 17-year-olds.
  • Prohibit 17-year-olds from being incarcerated in adult facilities, and provide them with age-appropriate rehabilitation services.

“This plan is about giving young people who make mistakes a chance to turn their lives around,” House Judiciary Chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) said in a statement. “…Teenagers who are sentenced to the adult prison system are much more likely to be arrested again in the future, when compared to young people who go through the juvenile system, which is focused on rehabilitation.”

GOP Senate spokesperson Amber McCann told reporters after the vote that “we’re going to get [the package] to the governor as quickly as possible.” 

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

Alex Rossman, spokesperson for the nonpartisan Michigan League of Public Policy (MLPP) spoke with the Advance after the session, saying it feels “surreal” to finally have a win on this issue after years of effort.

“This current law is antiquated,” Rossman said.

Having 17-year-olds tried as juveniles “really improves the whole trajectory of these young individuals’ lives,” he said. “It really is a broad area of benefit that changes their whole lives. I don’t think this can be over-emphasized today.”

Rossman is optimistic that Whitmer will be supportive of —and ultimately sign — the legislation.

Senate advances ‘raise the age’ criminal justice legislation

“The [Fiscal Year 2020] budget process has been so contentious, that having a policy issue that everyone can come together in agreement on is important … and what better issue to come together on than something that’s going to benefit our kids and communities,” Rossman said.

In a statement after Wednesday’s chamber vote, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said the bipartisan legislation “proves that our best work is done when we do it together.”

Michigan state Capitol
Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

Upon receiving Whitmer’s signature, the laws would be in effect starting on Oct. 1, 2021.

The full package of 18 bills now ready for Whitmer’s approval includes:

  • 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 4140 sponsored by state Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw) would modify the detention of juveniles in certain circumstances.
  • 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 4145 sponsored by state Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) would preclude prejudication confinement of juveniles younger than 18 in jail.
  • 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.
  • SB 84 sponsored by Sen. Curtis VanderWall (R-Ludington) would modify the definition of an adult in Michigan’s indigent defense commission act.
  • SB 90 sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) would amend the Probate Code of 1939 regarding juveniles in criminal procedure.
  • SB 93 sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) would change the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the Youth Rehabilitation Services Act.
  • SB 97 sponsored by Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-East Lansing) would amend laws regarding juveniles.
  • SB 99 sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.) would revise the code of criminal procedure to change the age limit on procedures for sentencing juveniles prosecuted for personal protection order violations.
  • SB 100 sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) would modify specified juvenile violation definition in probate code of 1939.
  • SB 101 sponsored by Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) would modify county juvenile justice services reimbursements.
  • SB 102 sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) would provide for a “Raise the Age” fund.

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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.