Dollars and Sense: The “Costs” of Raising the Age in Michigan
Michigan remains one of only five states that automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults for any offense. In 2016, the Michigan Legislature appropriated $500,000 to study the cost impact of raising the state’s age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. The funds, allocated to the Criminal Justice Policy Commission, were used to hire independent consultant Hornby Zeller Associates, Inc. (HZA) to complete the cost analysis.
As the cost-study was underway, it became clear that a definitive number would be difficult to ascertain, given that Michigan does not track the number of youth in the adult or juvenile justice systems, nor the cost of services. While the data limitations render the report somewhat imperfect, the information that HZA was able to gather and analyze was impressive, and the study’s findings are a positive step forward.
Cost Predictions Vary
The cost estimates in the final study vary widely. The high estimate assumes that 15% of youth currently sentenced to prison or jail would be placed in the most expensive, secure public facilities for the longest duration, and HZA notes that this cost estimate should be viewed as a “worst case scenario”. The low estimate assumes these same youth would be in secure private facilities and for a shorter average length of stay. The report also notes that the vast majority of 17 year-olds served in the juvenile justice system would remain in the community.
Costs Decrease Over Time
The estimates in the report are based on 2016 caseload and budget data. But if passed, Raise the Age legislation would not be implemented until at least 2020. Because arrest rates and caseloads have been declining over the past decade, which is a trend expected to continue, the actual costs to implement in 2020 are predicted to be significantly lower. In every state that has raised the age, each with their own unique challenges and disparate systems, one thing has remained constant; every state has overestimated the actual juvenile court costs to raise the age. This was primarily due to failure to factor in the impacts of expanding the use of diversion, providing youth with community programs instead of incarceration, and a decreasing crime rate.
Lastly, the report also did not assess the related long-term benefits of raising the age, such as reduced recidivism, improved employment outcomes and its impact on tax revenues, and reduced public benefit costs for subsidized healthcare and other income supports.
So what happens next?
The Funding Solutions Work Group, chaired by Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Oakland) and Judge Dorene Allen, will reconvene stakeholders to discuss various funding mechanisms. A final solution will require collaboration and innovation among multiple groups, all of whom agree that raising the age is the right thing to do.
Although an exact dollar amount is difficult to determine, the costs of not raising the age are crystal clear: youth will continue to be traumatized, victimized, and denied opportunities for a productive future if they remain in the adult criminal justice system. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Ultimately, raising the age provides a truly immeasurable return on investment – the safety, well-being and future potential of youth.
It’s time to raise the age in Michigan!
You can download the final report here: Raise the Age in MI Final Cost Report
Also in the March 2018 Raise the age News:
Join the Raise the Age campaign in the name of health – Dr. Renee Canady – Executive Director of the Michigan Public Health Institute click here to read more.
Costs At Issue For Raising Age On Adult Criminal Prosecution Evan Carter – Michigan Capitol Confidential Click here to read more.
You can also visit the Raise the Age Website to learn more about this very important work today!