As part of Youth Justice Sunday on April 29, I had the honor of speaking to congregants and community members at Fountain Street Church. The church has long been a pillar of justice in the community and is highly regarded for its commitment to advocating for people who are facing economic, social and political injustices. On this particular morning, we came together to raise up the needs of kids in Grand Rapids and around the state and raise awareness on what we all can do to help them.
A big opportunity to do that is called Raise the Age, a policy currently awaiting action by the Michigan Legislature. Seventeen-year-olds in Michigan are not allowed to drop out of school, vote, enlist in the military without parental consent, purchase tobacco, fireworks or lottery tickets; however, they can be put in adult prison. Michigan is one of five states in this country that automatically tries 17-year-olds as adults in our criminal justice system. In doing so, it is squandering these kids’ potential and putting them at physical, mental, emotional and financial risk.
If we truly care for youth in our communities, we must change this law. The Raise the Age campaign is working at the state level to make sure that 17-year-olds aren’t forced into the adult prison system. Between 2003 and 2013, 20,291 youth were convicted as adults in Michigan. Ninety-five percent of those youth was 17 at the time of the offense. Some were even younger. June 1, 2018 – Grand Rapids Business Journal