Michigan’s criminal justice policy is following a national trend to get “tough on crime.” State lawmakers proclaim their policies are the “toughest in the nation.”
Under the state’s justice system, a youth of any age can be charged, tried and sentenced as an adult, requiring offenders to serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence.
“In the past 10 years, about 82 percent of
the youth in prison had no high school diploma,
nor had they completed a GED”
According to a new study, “Youth Behind Bars,” by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, incarcerated teens have a higher tendency for violent behavior toward officers and other inmates. In addition, the stressors of confinement also contribute to mental health issues. Juveniles entering Michigan’s prisons are enrolled automatically in the “Outpatient Mental Health Treatment System.”
Youth sent to adult prisons have an elevated percentage of being beaten and sexually assaulted and are 36 times more likely to commit suicide. The ones who are eventually released are 34 percent more likely to reoffend and commit violent crimes.
“People who are treated inhumanely become more inhumane — this is especially true for young people in prison,” said Patricia Caruso, former director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Most of the juveniles charged as adults rely on public defenders. However, the study finds that the state’s public defense delivery system is “one of the worst in the nation, fraught with inconsistent funding, under-resourced attorneys and a lack of oversight.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 took steps to see that “children under 18 must be treated differently from adults in the criminal system” and mandatory “life without parole for those under 18 is cruel and unusual punishment and unconstitutional.”
The Michigan study found that of the youth probationers, 91 percent were 17 years old at the time of their offense and most, 71 percent, committed non-violent offenses. About two-thirds had no previous juvenile record.
According to the study, “In the past 10 years, about 82 percent of the youth in prison had no high school diploma, nor had they completed a GED.”
The study recommends
Raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. This alone would impact 95 percent of the children currently being sent into adult corrections.
Remove youth from adult jails and prisons.
Require oversight and public reporting on youth in the adult system.
Require judicial review of all transfer cases.
Develop policies to reduce the over-representation of youth of color in the adult system.
Provide effective legal representation to youth.
Offer developmentally appropriate and rehabilitative alternatives to youth in the community.
Restrict the use of segregation.
End the option to sentence youth to life without the possibility of parole.
Effectively partner with families and victims at all stages of the criminal justice system.