Home News Center Raise the Age Legislation Passed in Michigan

Raise the Age Legislation Passed in Michigan

November 25, 2019
Courtney McSwain

After five years of persistent advocacy from a strong coalition of partners
 led by NJJN member Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD), the state of Michigan finally raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 on October 31, 2019. 

In its 2014 report, "Youth Behind Bars," MCCD sounded the call for major changes in the state's treatment of justice-involved youth, including the important recommendation to raise the age of jurisdiction for the youth legal system. MCCD's report analyzed felony data over a ten-year period and found that 95 percent of youth prosecuted during that time were charged as adults simply because they were 17 years old and despite the fact that the majority of 17 year olds never had a prior juvenile record and were charged with non-violent offenses.  The report further drove home the inadequacy of the adult system to meet the unique needs of youth, including their educational and mental health needs. 

When MCCD first began reporting its findings, then State Representative Harvey Santana of Detroit took interest and became an early champion of many of the report's recommendations. He introduced legislation addressing much of the report's recommendations, and also importantly cultivated other legislative champions who would keep the issue on the policy agenda. Ultimately, the “Raise-the-Age" (RTA) campaign became a bi-partisan legislative effort, pushed for by an ideologically diverse coalition of partners.  

MCCD played a key role in the campaign by coordinating the coalition's bi-weekly calls; speaking at public education events everywhere from high school classrooms to college campuses and managing the campaign website and social media. Perhaps, most importantly, MCCD provided the data and information needed for coalition partners to conduct effective advocacy in their local areas throughout the state. 

"Passing the raise-the-age bill was a huge testament to the work of the coalition members," said Jason Smith, MCCD's Director of Youth Justice Policy and NJJN YJLI Alumn. "Everyone really contributed - from hosting events to finding human impact stories and reaching out to their organization's constituents to garner public support. Everyone worked really hard to present a united front and a unified message to get the legislation passed." 

One of the key strategies the coalition used was garnering support at the county level – an approach borrowed from North Carolina's successful RTA campaign. 

"We worked with willing county commissions to sponsor resolutions in support of raise-the-age legislation. This was an important strategy because our state's juvenile justice system is county-based, and there was significant opposition based on the idea that the county juvenile courts would be overwhelmed by the amount of youth they would receive post-RTA and the belief that the costs would be exorbitant, which we actually found to be overestimated. Getting county commissions on board helped us to push back on those fears and show that county policymakers were behind this as well," Smith said. 

Indeed, one such effort to garner county commissioner support was entirely youth-led. The Washtenaw County Youth Advisory Board lead and organized a meeting with the county commission and brought together youth and adult allies, including public defense attorneys, to persuade the commission to pass a resolution – which became the first county resolution in favor of RTA legislation. 

Now that the bill has passed, advocates will move to focus on implementation. Specifically, it will be essential to educate juvenile justice stakeholders on the specifics of the law and hold the legislature accountable for fully funding its implementation. "It is imperative that resources are provided to expand the capacity for 17-year olds entering the youth legal system, but also to create more robust community-based alternatives to incarceration, diversion and restorative justice. It will also be important to ensure the state of Michigan stays in compliance with the JJDPA," said Smith.  

MCCD will also address other policy priorities outside of RTA implementation, including improving the quality of juvenile defense, increasing confidentiality protections on juvenile records, and removing all youth from adult prisons and jails - language for which was included in early versions of RTA legislation but got cut through the process. 

"I'm proud and happy that MCCD was able to participate in a historic reform like this for kids," Smith said. "Not only does it show the benefits of bipartisanship at the legislative level, but it also demonstrates the success of our coalition. Everyone really embraced the campaign. It was a long time coming."

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