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"Raise the Age" legislation takes effect Oct. 1

Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, including a tree.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The legislation was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2019.

Starting Friday, October 1, 17-year-olds in Michigan will no longer be automatically treated like adults in the state's criminal justice system.

"It's a historic day," Jason Smith, the Executive Director with Michigan Center for Youth Justice, said.

The switch is due to Michigan's "Raise the Age" bipartisan legislation. It was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2019, who called it one of the "meaningful" changes made in the criminal justice system during the 2020 State of the State.

"This is a law change that will help thousands of youths address their needs and be successful adults, successful contributors to society," Smith said.

It took two years for the bill's guidelines to become a reality. One big reason is that courts and counties in 2019 needed the time to figure out how to pay for the influx of juvenile cases. Smith also said courts and treatment programs were given time to adjust to the addition of a new age group.

"(It's) good thing for Michigan's kids. Now, 17-year-olds will have access to treatment and programs, services that are age and developmentally appropriate for them," he said. "And no longer be placed in a system that truly just doesn't cater to their needs."

He points out that 17-year-olds can't vote or drink. And that young people's brains at that age are not fully developed yet.

"But they were automatically prosecuted as an adult in Michigan, no matter what the offense."

"Raise the Age" also aligns with the majority of the country. According to the Poynter Institute, there are three states in the country left that automatically process 17-year-olds as adults.

Nisa Khan joins Michigan Radio as the station’s first full-time data reporter. In that capacity, she will be reporting on data-driven news stories as well as working with other news staff to acquire and analyze data in support of their journalism.
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