By Jason Ziedenberg
As a former staffer of two corrections agencies responsible for community supervision of youth and young adults, the data in a new report published this week by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD) on the transfer laws – and how youth are fairing under adult supervision – underlines for me the critical need for this state to increase the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to age 18.
The report, Youth Behind Bars: Examining the impact of prosecuting and incarcerating kids in Michigan’s criminal justice system, profiles the fact that Michigan is one of 10 states that automatically sees 17 year olds tried in their adult system. A huge number of youth are affected by this, and not only those engaged in serious delinquency. Between 2003 and 2013, according to the report, 19,124 youth aged 17 were tried as adults, and entered either an adult jail, prison or ended up on probation. While there are a couple of pathways for youth to be transferred to adult court, because 17 year olds are automatically tried as adults, most youth affected by the law were convicted of a non-violent offense.
Different people will read Youth Behind Bars and see different reasons why there is a need for a change in the Michigan law. When I think about my time working with probation departments in Oregon, juvenile departments that supervise young adults in Washington, D.C., and work with community supervision leaders that want to advance best practices through the National Institute of Corrections, I see a classic example of how the state isn’t keeping up with best practices that we would like to see criminal justice policy.