Those 17 and under would be placed into the juvenile criminal justice system instead of the current 16 and under, except for the most serious crimes, under legislation unanimously approved Tuesday by the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Supporters are hailing the wide-ranging bill package as a major criminal justice reform that would place 17-year-olds accused of crimes in a system better designed to address their needs than placing them in the adult system with the possibility of going to an adult prison. Juveniles accused of murder, sexual assault, arson, assault with intent to commit murder and armed robbery would still be subject to having the prosecutor place them in the adult court system.

"After years' worth of work, conversations back and forth, emails, phone conversations, text messages, one on ones, I have done everything possible to be inclusive of everyone's desires in this bill package," said Rep. Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), a key sponsor on the legislation. "What sense does it make to send a 16-year-old, a 17-year-old to an adult prison?"

No major changes were made to the bills by the committee.

Concerns remain at the county level, which would have to shoulder a new financial burden. Mr. Santana said he is working on a bill that would set up a funding source to address concerns.

Mr. Santana and Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth), the committee chair, said they wanted to get the bills moving to send a message to the Appropriations committees that the effort is serious so it can be incorporated into work on the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.

The legislation has drawn opposition from the Michigan Association of Counties and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

"This package represents a huge change for the juvenile justice system in Michigan, one that would bring significant new demands for programming and resources," said Dana Gill, MAC's director of government affairs. "Without a sufficient commitment from the state for new resources, this could cause havoc in the juvenile justice system."

And Michael Wendling, president of PAAM, said the cost factor is key.

"This represents a dramatic change in our criminal justice system, and while worthy of debate, should be approached slowly and thoughtfully," he said. "For such a change to take place, significant infrastructure and suitable programming needs must be put in place. Accompanying those changes is the need for funding to appropriately address these needs, without risking harming the young people this legislation is intended to support."

PAAM also called for the legislation to retain the ability for prosecutors to waive juveniles into the adult system, which the legislation does maintain.

The bills in the package are HB 4947*HB 4948*HB 4949*HB 4950*HB 4951*HB 4952*HB 4953*HB 4954*HB 4955*HB 4956*HB 4957*HB 4958*HB 4959*HB 4960*HB 4961*HB 4962*HB 4963*HB 4964* and HB 4965*.

Also unanimously approved was HB 4966*, which would require the Department of Corrections to develop policies ensuring that inmates under 21 be offered age-appropriate, out-of-cell programming and outdoor exercise at least five times a week, including those in segregation.

The Department of Attorney General is neutral on the legislation but monitoring it closely, spokesperson Andrea Bitely said. 
Attorney General Bill Schuette had said in October he had "severe reservations" about the idea.

Source: Gonger News Service Michigan Report; Tuesday, February 16, 2016

(Posted with permission from Gongwer News Service)

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