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House committee begins talks on changing juvenile lifer law

Dave Nakayama
FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

The state House Judiciary Committee is considering changes to the law that requires juveniles charged with serious crimes in Michigan to be tried and sentenced as adults. There’s wide agreement the law doesn’t reduce future offenses, and it is costly to taxpayers.

Richard Griffin told the committee he turned his life around after being sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for a drug-related murder. He says other teenagers deserve the same chance.

“Let us be mindful not to disregard these children even when their decision-making isn’t rational, illogical, and even when their choices are destructive and detrimental. Caging them with adults is not only detrimental to them, but to us all.”

Experts told the committee that "adult-time-for-adult-crime" sentencing has not worked. Instead, jails and prisons have been filled with teens and young adults not ready for life outside. 

The holdup in changing the law is creating a plan to ensure costs of the existing juvenile system are not passed on to local courts and jails.

Democratic Representative Leslie Love says Michigan lags behind the rest of the country in updating its juvenile crime laws.

“Forty-six other states recognize that it is more cost-effective in the long run to provide juvenile treatment for youthful offenders. And research consistently demonstrates that youth tried in the juvenile court are less likely to recidivate than youth tried in the adult court.”

Michigan is one of four states that automatically hands adult sentences to teenagers convicted of murder and other felonies. 

Jason Smith of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency says those last few states are changing their policies.

“Michigan runs the risk of being the only state in the entire nation that continues to unfairly prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults,” says Smith.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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