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Whitmer signs bill to raise the age of people automatically charged as adults to 18

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the raise the age legislation into law Thursday in Lansing with supporters and lawmakers..jpg
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the raise the age legislation into law Thursday in Lansing with supporters and lawmakers..jpg
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After years of work on bills to raise the age of people charged with crimes as adults have failed, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a plan Thursday to automatically try people 18 years old and younger as juveniles.

Known as Raise the Age, the plan changes the current state law that automatically charges 17-year-old offenders as adults. Michigan is one of four states to still do so. Whitmer’s signature came after the House and Senate passed the plans in early October.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier in 2019 after failing to gain enough traction during the lame-duck Legislature in 2018. The full bill package includes 14 pieces of legislation and this year included plans to fund changes that are expected in county facilities.

“I’m proud that Michigan has joined 46 other states in ending the unjust practice of charging and punishing our children as adults when they make mistakes,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These bills will strengthen the integrity of our justice system by ensuring that children have access to due process that is more responsive to juveniles.”

The plan eliminates the automation of waiving 17-year-olds into the adult prison system while maintaining prosecutorial judgement.

“[The] prosecutor’s office always has the ability to go ahead and waive those individuals, like they’ve had all along. We’ve always had the right to waive those individuals who commit the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, arson, those are lifetime offenses and as a result, we’ve waived those individuals anyway,” Republican Sen. Pete Lucido of Shelby Township previously said.

The renewed effort to get the legislation through in 2019 began in February. Lucido and Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit — two of the key bill sponsors — held a news conference after the package was introduced.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined Whitmer and lawmakers for the bill signing. She praised the collaborative efforts from interest groups and lawmakers to get the legislation through and cross the finish line.

“Automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults began more than a century ago in Michigan and ignores the fact that intervention and rehabilitation, even this close to adulthood, is both humane and cost-effective for the individuals charged and society.”

Research from the Prison Policy Initiative in 2018 said “of all incarcerated people, youth held with adults are at the highest risk of sexual abuse; they are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities, and are at a greater risk of being held in solitary confinement than they would be in juvenile facilities."

Briana Moore, of Madison Heights, was convicted of a misdemeanor assault and battery charge when she was 17-years-old after “a scuffle at a mall.” She said she was sentenced to one year probation and that was it.

“There’s a part of you that knows that wasn’t right. But we have to remember that your brain isn’t even developed until your 25 so to say that you know all of the consequences of your actions at 17, you just can’t fully understand that,” she said.

Moore said her criminal record has followed her throughout her life. Despite the record, she graduated from Oakland University and works as a social worker.

“Fifteen years later, I’m realizing that that is has been a long battle. Every time you think it’s over, it comes back. Something so small can follow you for the rest of your life,” Moore said after the bill signing. “I just didn’t let society define me. You want to call me a criminal, that’s fine but I’m going to show you what I’m made of.”

From July 2015 to July 2016, there were 29,959 juvenile cases overall in Michigan, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency using data from the courts. If 17-year-olds move to the juvenile system, an increase of 7,564 juvenile cases are expected in the state. There would be a total net zero change, though, in the number of cases as the increase would be expected to shift from the adult courts to the Family Division, according to the SFA.

The plan will take effect October 2021.

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