Michigan residents believe juvenile offenders deserve second chances such as rehabilitation or parole, according to surveys conducted over two years by MSU associate professor of social work Sheryl Kubiak.
The survey also shows most residents oppose sending young offenders to adult prisons while they are still under 18 years old, Kubiak said.
“What was very clear was that a vast majority of people thought that, even if young people should serve long sentences, they shouldn’t serve them in an adult facility,” she said.
Out of 1,390 residents surveyed, 5 percent believed youths should be sent to an adult prison for life without parole for a serious crime, such as homicide. About 66.5 percent of respondents said youths should serve an intermediate sentence until they are 18, where they can be sent to an adult prison with the opportunity of parole.
Michigan is one of 19 states that allow children of any age to be tried and punished as adults. Kubiak, who became involved in surveys pertaining to juvenile offenders during her time at Wayne State University, said residents support second chances because of the possibility of rehabilitation.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Richard Garcia said the juvenile system is a treatment, not punishment-based, system. Most juvenile offenders first go through programs to help prevent high-risk behaviors before taking further action.
For sentencing, the court also examines factors such as involvement in the crime, past offenses and any previous rehabilitation program, Garcia said.
“It just depends on if there’s any hope yet to redirect that young person and make sure that they won’t offend again,” Garcia said. “The public still deserves to be protected.”
A hearing held by a family court judge then determines whether it is in the best interest of the community for the juvenile to be tried as an adult.
Other factors could help determine whether or not a juvenile offender deserves a second chance, said MSU alumna Erin Gantz.
“If you’re 17 or 18 (years old) and you’re committing a violent crime, then you should know better,” Gantz said. “But it would depend on the crime and where the person came from.”
Youth younger than the age of 17 years old who break the law may be tried before the Family Division of the Ingham County Circuit Court. Kubiak said since releasing the results, other researchers across the nation have inquired about conducting a similar survey in their area.
Kubiak said only three countries have a policy allowing juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, including the United States.
“I definitely think this is information that our legislators can use to think about and realign the policies to what the public is thinking,” Kubiak said.
Published on Sunday, June 15, 2008