Incarcerating our Youth

What Constitutes An Adult?

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with a rate of over 716 per 100,000 of the national population. To put this into context, while the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. The state of Michigan, and its current laws, significantly contributes to this pervasive issue. Teenagers, often those still in high school, fill our state and local prisons at an alarming rate. In fact, Michigan has one of the highest rates of juvenile life sentences in the entire country.

Part of this stems from the fact that Michigan is one of the only states in the country that automatically charges seventeen-year-olds as adults. By automatically charging those who break the law at age 17 as adults, judges are limited from handling potentially ambiguous matters through a case-by-case. Further, teens as young as fourteen-years-old could be held in prisons among adult offenders. 

While all people should face consequences for their actions, the current system allows for people to be imprisoned or stripped of any chance of normalcy for the remainder of their lives due to actions that had occurred as children and teenagers. Michigan legislators have tried addressing this issue in recent years, but no concrete action has been taken.

Do you think minors should be held to the same degree of judgement and sentencing as fully-developed adults?


Other questions to consider:

- Should Michigan remain one of the few states in the country left to automatically try seventeen-year-olds as adults?

- Is the current incarceration rate in the U.S. justified? Or is this something that should be further examined?

- And if something should be changed, how can we fix it? And what can we do to help young people, especially those who may come from an unstable home or background, be less inclined to commit crime?


Sources: Further readings on the issue: