Michigan's 'Raise the Age' law effective in 2021, not retroactive

Published: Oct. 31, 2019 at 6:12 PM EDT
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(10/31/19) - A more than century old practice of automatically charging 17-year-olds as adults in MIchigan is officially done away with, although the new set of laws won't take effect until October of 2021.

Governor Whitmer signed the package of laws today which will 'raise the age' and change the criminal justice system.

"It's a great step in the right direction," said Leon El-Alamin, founder of M.A.D.E. Institute.

El-Alamin applauded the Michigan legislature and Governor Whitmer for signing off on an 18-bill package to raise the age of juvenile offenders in Michigan from 17 to 18-years-old. Until now, Michigan was one of four states that still treated 17-year-olds as adults under the criminal justice system.

El-Alamin says he can relate to the impact being incarcerated has on a person's life and life post-prison. He was 20-years-old when he got into some legal trouble.

"For me it was troubling. I seen some things that made me have to grow up real fast," El-Alamin said. "So only imagine as a 17-year-old who is going through where he's in a big boy prison where he's in there with grown men or she's in there with grown women. It can be devastating."

The new law not only raises the age, but provides state funding to help ensure that 17-year-olds have access to services and age appropriate rehabilitation. It also ensures offenders under the age of 18 will not be placed in adult jails and prisons.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says he has supported the raise the age campaign for years, and he thinks the law could go even further.

"We might have a separate court for young people say between the ages of 18 and 24 because they're still not fully developed. The whole idea of making 17-year-olds juveniles is because they're not fully developed," Leyton said.

The Michigan Department of Corrections says there are "less than 30" prisoners under the age of 18 inside Michigan's prisons with crimes ranging from larceny to murder. Most, however, are violent offenses. That doesn't include individuals who may have turned 18 while incarcerated.

Prosecutors still have discretion regarding violent offenses under the law changes.

"I think the only time a juvenile should be locked up in an adult prison is if they've committed a crime so heinous and so violent that the individual is a threat to the public safety," Leyton said.

El-Alamin is a bright success story. He turned his life around and is giving back to his community as founder and executive director of the M.A.D.E. Institute.

He saw a major need in the community for helping individuals out of jail or prison through housing, training, jobs, entrepreneurship and more. He understands that re-offending is a very real possibility. He recalled the story of a young man around age 17 who he had tried to help through the program.

"He served a few years behind the walls, and then he got out for a short stint, and you could see the psychological effect that it has on an undeveloped mind," El-Alamin said. "And you can see a pattern if you learn his history. He ended up getting caught up and going back to prison."

M.A.D.E. Institute has had an 85-percent success rate and recently received a grant from the American Heart Association.

"The need has never been so high. Our communities have been devastated, particularly black communities," El-Alamin said. "Now we're seeing it with the brown communities and even the rural white areas as well. We're seeing over mass incarceration has really devastated communities."

MDOC says there is no retroactive relief under the legislation. A spokesperson tells ABC12 that every 17-year-old sentenced as an adult prior to October 2021, will have to complete their sentence and will carry an adult conviction on their record.

Georgia, Texas and Wisconsin are now the three remaining states where 17-year-olds are considered adults in all cases.

To learn more about M.A.D.E. Institute, click