Toward the end of April this year, what some have described as the “largest criminal justice reform package in U.S. history” was passed in the House, a package of bills that would mean 17-year-olds who allegedly commit certain crimes would not be automatically treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
Michigan criminal attorneys know that 17-year-olds, who in the opinion of most people are not adults, have been treated as such for too long. There are only nine states that try 17-year-olds as adults, and Michigan is one of them. For those who are 17 and have been charged with a crime or their families, this could be very good news. In the majority of cases, the criminal penalties adults face if convicted of a crime are much harsher than the punishment younger individuals considered juveniles face.
Michigan isn’t the only state working toward treating 17-year-olds as juveniles rather than adults. Other states working to reform the criminal justice system where juveniles are concerned include Louisiana and South Carolina. Even more disturbing is the fact that some states treat 16-year-olds as adults when charged with a crime; these include North Carolina and New York.
What does this news mean for juvenile offenders in Michigan? As of 2018, 17-year-olds will not be automatically treated as an adult when faced with allegations of committing a crime. Additionally, those under 18 years of age would not be housed in adult prisons and would have greater access to youth programs as funding for these programs increases. It’s important to keep in mind that even with the passage of these bills, certain offenses including armed robbery, rape, attempted murder, and arson could still result in a 17-year-old being tried as an adult.
Senator Anthony Forlini, sponsor of one of the bills, said that children need different treatment than adults, and that without focusing on counseling, education, and appropriate discipline our society is essentially creating more criminals rather than doing everything possible to ensure juveniles don’t come back.
Children who are housed with adults are often vulnerable to sexual assault and other harsh treatment; being housed with hardened criminals for a substantial amount of time often results in these youthful offenders becoming repeat offenders.
There are several House bills in the package including:
HB 4957-4959 which would prohibit the housing of juveniles with adults and adult imprisonment for juvenile offenders.
HB 4955-4966 which would change sentencing criteria that determine whether a juvenile would be sentenced as a juvenile or adult.
HB 4960-4962 which would allow 17-year-olds accused of committing rape, armed robbery, arson, and other “high-level” crimes to be tried in adult court by prosecutors.
As Michigan works to reform how youthful offenders are treated in the criminal justice system, teens who are 17 years old are still being charged as adults at the current time in many cases. The most important step any teen can take when facing criminal charges is to consult with a skilled and aggressive criminal defense lawyer. It is vital that teenagers have the opportunity to rehabilitate rather than face severe punishment so they may become productive members of society, and not hardened criminals.