House approves bill to treat 17-year-olds as juvenile offenders

LANSING, Mich. (AP/WLNS) – Bills advancing in Michigan’s Legislature would stop automatically treating 17-year-old criminal offenders as adults and instead put them in the juvenile justice system.

A main measure in the 20-bill package won approval on a 92-16 vote Wednesday in the Republican-controlled House. It goes to the Senate for consideration.

Supporters say Michigan is among just nine states to consider 17-year-old offenders as adults even though adolescents’ brains aren’t fully developed. Backers say 17-year-olds shouldn’t be sent to an adult jail or prison, and they can be better rehabilitated in juvenile detention.

Prosecutors could still ask judges to treat 17-year-old defendants as adults in serious crimes such as murder and rape. The changes wouldn’t take effect until 2018, so Michigan could study the implications for counties that fear higher juvenile justice costs.

The Michigan League for Public Policy said, “the League is extremely pleased to see action on this important legislation today to stop treating all justice-involved 17-year-olds as adults. Sentencing kids as adults—especially nonviolent or first-time offenders—greatly harms their chance at rehabilitation. Treating these kids like adults makes them 34 percent more likely to reoffend, and having a prison record is detrimental to their future education, employment, housing and relationships. These are impressionable, still-developing kids and will now rightfully be treated as such, getting the age-appropriate treatment that we know is effective and will improve their long-term outcomes.”

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