Trends in Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice in Michigan

In Michigan the concern for juveniles accused of crimes and the juvenile or criminal justice systems are a topic of intense focus.  In recent years, efforts have been made by state lawmakers to raise the age for juvenile crimes from 16 to 17, so that 17-year-olds would not face a much harsher adult criminal justice system with the exception of those who are accused of the most serious criminal offenses.  Unfortunately, Michigan is one of only nine states that allows those younger than 18 years old to be prosecuted as adults automatically.  Changes are hopefully coming, and as Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit said in a news report concerning a 17-year-old who was convicted of murder last year, “the old mentality of locking prisoners up and throwing away the key isn’t working.”

Legislation to place individuals 17 and under into the juvenile justice system was recently unanimously approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee.  Essentially, 17-year-olds who have committed less serious crimes such as drug possession, shoplifting, DUI, or underage drinking would be placed in a system better designed for their needs, while those accused of armed robbery, sexual assault, murder, intent to commit murder, or arson would still face the adult system and possibly adult prison if convicted.
Juvenile arrests drop in Michigan

According to a 2012 Juvenile Arrest Analysis Report, juvenile arrests across the state dropped by nearly 20% (19.6) over a period of four years between 2005 and 2009.  Property crimes and larceny account for many of the crimes juveniles were arrested for over this period.  In terms of violent crimes, the state stood near the middle all 50 states.  In all, juvenile crime arrests dropped from 26,485 in 2005 to 21,298 in 2009 according to the report.

Juvenile “lifers” may now be considered for parole under U.S. Supreme Court ruling

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole was “cruel and unusual” punishment, because juveniles brains are not fully developed.  In 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court maintained that sentences prior to 2012 did not need to be re-examined.  The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the lower court’s decision, and on January 25, 2016 the wheels were set in motion by the U.S. Supreme Court giving the 350 people now incarcerated in prisons across Michigan for crimes they allegedly committed as juveniles an opportunity to seek parole.

Which counties are in greatest need of juvenile delinquency prevention resources, and what are the primary risk factors that often result in juveniles ending up in the juvenile justice system?

According to a 2011 report from the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice, counties having the greatest need for juvenile delinquency prevention resources include Wayne, Genesee, Saginaw, Muskegon, Clare, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Ingham, Allegan, Crawford, and several more – over 30 in all.  These communities were identified using several risk factor categories including educational success, economic conditions, involvement with Child Protective Services, involvement in the Juvenile Justice system, teen pregnancy, and population-related data for minors.

In December of 2015, The Detroit News released an editorial regarding increasing the age of those considered juveniles for criminal justice purposes to 18.  The editorial, which focuses on reforming the state’s criminal justice system, states that the focus on juveniles who commit crimes should be to rehabilitate rather than punish.  Ultimately, juveniles who go into the adult criminal justice system and serve prison terms as adults do rarely get the opportunity to become productive citizens, and instead turn out to be hardened criminals.

The article goes on to say that what Michigan has been doing in the past in terms of providing justice for juveniles is not working. Perhaps with the passage of a legislation package containing more than 20 bills, juveniles can be rehabilitated while public safety is improved and the state saves on costs related to potential future juvenile crime and imprisonment.

If your child has been charges with with a juvenile crime, contact our offices now for a free consultation.

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