By JASON KRAFT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Convicted felons who are 18 years old could be sentenced to certain juvenile institutions instead of prison under recently proposed legislation.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Wendell Byrd, D-Detroit, works in tandem with the juvenile reform package introduced in 2015 that raises Michigan’s criminal age from 17 to 18.
Byrd’s bill was recently referred to the House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors. A hearing date has not been set.
The juvenile reform package introduced last year would mean that 18-year-old offenders would be charged as juveniles instead of adults, said Terri Barker, a legislative aide for Byrd. The package passed the House Committee on Criminal Justice in February and is now before the full House.
“Think of the juvenile reform package as a pebble, and this as a ripple,” Barker said. “Eighteen-year-olds found guilty currently go to adult prisons. Under this bill, they would be able to go to specific institutions designed for the youth that provide health treatments.”
In many cases, the bill would expand care to the people already at these facilities. Now, 17-year-old inmates at these facilities must enter adult prisons once they turn 18. If they still require treatment when they turn 18, the bill would ensure that they could continue their program at the institution they are already at.
Juvenile reform advocates say they hope to give Michigan’s youth greater access to age-appropriate disciplinary services.
“These institutions keep adjudicated youth in a safe, secure environment that is professionally staffed, where treatment is available,” Barker said.
One of the last publicly funded juvenile institutions in Michigan, the Maxey facility in Whitmore Lake, shut down in 2015 because of a movement to privatize the care of juvenile offenders, said Krista Jones, legislative director for Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, who is the majority vice chair of the Committee on Families, Children, and Seniors. The Maxey facility was viewed as too expensive, though it may have only looked that way because it had the most juvenile offenders, she said.
In light of the reform package, legislation has since been proposed by Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, to re-open the Maxey facility.