Senate advances ‘raise the age’ criminal justice legislation

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    The Republican-led Michigan Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a package of bills that will prevent 17-year-olds from automatically being tried as adults and placed in adult detention facilities.

    The criminal justice reform legislation known as “raise the age” had strong bipartisan support when it was introduced in February, as the Advance reported.

    Michigan Capitol | Creative Commons

    Lawmakers and advocates say the legislation — Senate Bill 84 and Senate Bills 90-102 — will give teenagers, particularly non-violent offenders, more opportunity to learn from mistakes.

    “Kids aren’t adults — they make kid mistakes without thinking about or fully understanding the consequences of their actions. In most cases, these aren’t violent crimes; they’re dumb mistakes,” said state Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), a primary sponsor of the package.

    “This is a plan that still holds youth offenders accountable but helps them also to learn from their mistakes and to not repeat them, so that they can still have a chance at becoming productive members of society and not ruin their lives before they really start,” Lucido added.

    Sen. Peter Lucido | Senate photo

    Likewise, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), a primary sponsor of three bills, said the package will lead to better outcomes for teenagers convicted of crimes.

    “I’m so pleased to see this overdue legislation move with such vigor this session because the longer we wait on providing true justice to these children, the more we have failed them,” Santana said in a statement.

    “The idea that we ‘get tough on crime’ has only made us tough on kids whose knowledge of right and wrong is still in development,” Santana continued. “Youth incarceration of nonviolent offenders has shown no improvement in public safety; it only makes the path of rehabilitation more trying, and difficult, for both the youth and their family.”

    Michigan is one of only four states that automatically prosecutes 17-year-olds as adults.

    State Sen. Jim Runestead (R-White Lake) was the only lawmaker to vote against the whole package of bills, reportedly due to concerns that violent, repeat offenders could remain in the juvenile system.

    In addition to raising the age at which juveniles are charged as adults, the bills create a “Raise the Age Fund” to help local units of government with the costs associated with transitioning their detention facilities to be suitable for juveniles.

    Sen. Sylvia Santana | House Dems photo

    Raising the age at which juveniles are treated as adults was a priority identified in a new “Kids Count in Michigan” report released earlier this week by the nonpartisan Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP).

    In a statement, Kids Count Project Director Alicia Guevara Warren praised the Senate for its action.

    “For years we have worked with a strong coalition, including the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, to make this happen, and with the help of key lawmakers, we’re getting close to seeing Raise the Age become law,” said Guevara Warren.

    The Senate legislation will now head to the state House of Representatives, where similar bills have already passed a committee hurdle and could be taken up on the House floor soon, Guevara Warren said.

    “With expected action in the House this week, this could be headed to the governor’s desk soon, and our communities, our courts and our counties can begin preparing for this much-needed transition,” she said.

    Nick Manes
    Nick Manes covers West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels. His byline also has appeared in Route Fifty and The Daily Beast. When not reporting around the state or furiously tweeting, he enjoys spending time with his girlfriend, Krista, biking around his hometown of Grand Rapids and torturing himself rooting for the Detroit Lions.

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