There is a small window of time that Michigan advocates are hoping can work to pass legislation that would reclassify 17-year-olds as juveniles in the eyes of the law. If they can pull it off, it will leave just three states in America that consider all 17-year-olds to be adults in the eyes of the law.
About a dozen working days remain in this year’s lame duck session for the Michigan legislature, and a lot would need to happen. Step one occurred this morning, when the raise the age package was approved by the House Committee on Law and Justice, which this week concluded a third hearing on juvenile justice reform.
The committee approved the bills necessary to raise the age by a margin of 9-2, and added a measure that would create a Raise the Age advisory committee to help counties and agencies plan for the change.
Tom Hickson, vice president of public policy for Michigan Catholic Conference, told Youth Services Insider yesterday that he believed the committee would approve the bill, possibly with some amendments. One concession already made in hopes of moving it this year: moving the effective date back to 2021 to give counties more time to accommodate the change.
“The heavy lift,” Hickson said, “is getting the full house to take it up.”
While there is some philosophical pushback against including 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, Hickson said the stickiest wicket remains cost-sharing between the counties and the state when it comes to incarceration. Bottom line: the cost of juvenile incarceration is a 50-50 split, and the cost of adult incarceration is basically free for counties.
Given that the vast majority of 17-year-olds who are arrested are never locked up, either as juveniles or adults, it would be a particularly galling reason for defeat for raise the age advocates. Equally galling: the bill would probably have moved through the House faster if the legislature didn’t spend all year crafting child protection bills in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State.
According to Hickson, an offer is on the table to move that juvenile split to 68-32, in favor of the counties.
If raise the age passes the House – that would probably be next week – Hickson said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones (R) has promised advocates at least a hearing on it. By law, he said, the bill needs to be with the Senate for five days before it can be voted on.
With only a handful of days left after this week, it would take a quick approval from Judiciary followed by a full Senate vote. That’s probably only feasible if the Senate is willing to accept the House’s version as is. Hickson acknowledged that anything is a long shot on that short of a time frame, but the last-minute push is worth it. Because when the clock strikes January, raise the age goes back to the starting blocks and must be introduced all over again.
Michigan is one of four states that still considers all 17-year-olds to be adults in the eyes of the law (though every state has some law on the books that enables some youths to be tried as adults). The other three states: Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin.
Last May, Vermont became the first state to actually raise the age of juvenile justice above 18. By the year 2022, with some exceptions for violent offenses, all teens including 19-year-olds will be treated as juveniles.