Youth, families and communities across Michigan could benefit if the state changes the age for juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18, finds new research from Michigan State University’s Julian Samora Research Institute.
Michigan is one of four states – along with Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin – that still allows 17-year-olds to be charged as adults.
“We found strong indicators that point to the benefits of keeping youth in the juvenile court system instead of automatically thrusting them into the adult system,” said Rubén Martinez, director of the Julian Samora Research Institute. “The need for this research was evident during a summit we held last year with communities of color, during which many asked if we were going to address issues of the Michigan’s criminal justice system.”
Among the research findings:
- Taxpayer savings: While juvenile justice treatment programs are typically associated with higher costs, states that “raised the age” have found that additional costs were overestimated and that actual taxpayer savings can result over time.
- Fewer arrests and fewer 14-17-year-olds: Crime and arrest rates among Michigan’s juveniles have declined during the last decade, along with population reductions among Michigan youth ages 14 to 17.
- Public safety: Public Act 360, a section added to the Revised School Code, moves Michigan away from “zero tolerance” policies and promotes strong restorative justice to school disciplinary practices. Preventing youth from becoming disconnected from school or employment helps reduce high risk behaviors that put them in contact with law enforcement.
- Increased earning potential and reduced reliance on public assistance: Adolescents in juvenile court jurisdiction have opportunities for rehabilitation and age-appropriate treatment programs that can minimize long-term negative effects on their educational and employment outcomes.
- Reduced recidivism: Juvenile justice systems work to not only address the youth involved in crimes, but works to strengthen their families as well, thereby reducing recidivism.
- Racial equity: Youth of color accounted for 23 percent of the 17-year-old population in Michigan in 2012, and yet accounted for 53 percent of 17-year-olds serving sentences in adult incarceration facilities. Michigan’s justice system does not provide statistics using standard categories of race and ethnicity, leading to concern that the disparity may be even greater for African American and Latino youth.
An understanding of adolescent development has shifted many states toward less punitive policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A growing body of research connecting juvenile criminal behavior to emotional, mental, physiological and interpersonal immaturity supports the changes.
Martinez explained that there is still information needed to hone the research, and outlined the specific challenges to refine its conclusions.
“There are no standardized data sets across counties providing juvenile justice services that allow for better estimates of costs. This made it difficult to develop a systematic model to reliably project future costs for raising the age, and that’s one of the first questions that stakeholders want to know,” Martinez said.
Furthermore, Martinez suggests lawmakers look beyond numbers and statistics when making critical decisions that impact thousands of youth and their families.
“What the data indicate is that original cost projections were vastly overestimated. Further, it’s important to keep in mind that policy decisions should go beyond costs when it comes to youth, with concerns about their development kept front and center. That’s a significant step forward to determining how best to address this critically important societal issue.”
The report, Providing Appropriate Treatments to Youth in the Criminal Justice System by Raising the Age, can be viewed online. More information is available at www.jsri.msu.edu.