Teen years are for growth and education, not incarceration

Hakim C.

Hakim C.

The views in this story reveal the storyteller’s experience and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the Michigan League for Public Policy. If you have a story, please share it here.

Michigan remains one of only FIVE states that automatically prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults. This policy is at odds with state laws and national and international policies that declare adulthood to begin at age 18, and is detrimental to the development and rehabilitation of our kids.

As part of the campaign to Raise the Age of juvenile jurisdiction, we’re sitting down with people whose lives have been impacted by the system. Hakim C., now an adult, shared his story with us.

Why do you connect with the Raise the Age campaign?

When I was 17, I was convicted as an adult. At that stage in my life, I was already living on the streets on my own. I had grown up in the mid-80s, the crack era of Detroit. Prison was a part of my community’s culture. It wasn’t like a great tragedy. It was just another neighborhood, another ghetto. I pretty much thought I was an adult because I was living out an adult life. I was a different kid at the time. In my mind, I did not care if I lived or died. I was not emotionally connected.

 

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After spending four months in the Ingham County Jail, I moved to Milwaukee to get away from it all while I was on probation. In Milwaukee, I was wrongfully convicted for another crime, and because of my past adult offense in Michigan, I received an enhanced sentence.

There is no waiver process for 17-year-olds charged as adults in Michigan, so my adult charge in Michigan made me a repeat offender. I was charged much more harshly in Wisconsin, all for a crime I did not commit.

I spent 15 years in prison, and in that time I woke up. I had to rethink my decisions, and I realized I was completely lost emotionally and mentally. I was about to go to prison for the rest of my life, and I had not even begun my life. The first thing I started to do was change who I was.

How do you think 17-year-olds are affected by adult convictions?

I was locked up with multiple 17-year-olds in Ingham. They were not like me. Mentally, they were not able to process being away from their families. I have seen a lot of psychological break downs. These teens start to get into it with the officers because they cannot relate and communicate. They ultimately find themselves in conflict and being assaulted because they cannot channel their emotional energy.

Most kids going to prison with adults have their lives put in physical danger. But I had already lived a violent life. I was not scared. There were older men in the jail who quickly flocked to me to show me the ropes. There were plenty of people who were looking to take advantage of me. I got in multiple fights. I fought several grown adults in jail after they attempted to take advantage of my youth.

How are you working with teens now?

I work for a nonprofit organization that operates in schools. I am actually the only felon who has been approved to work in a school. In November, I will be teaching an elective class four times a week on the school-to-prison pipeline.

I work with kids who live in tough environments. I work with kids who get shot at school. In order to provide a platform to escape that, we have to change that environment. I was missing true, genuine mentors when I was young. I did not have anyone to look up to. I am trying to fill that gap for other young people.

Why do you believe the law needs to stop treating 17-year-olds as adults?

We should never be treating children as adults, period. We now understand brain development, so we know that students do not develop their full brain capacities until their mid-20s. Young people need their teen years filled with opportunity. They need time to grow into adulthood.

For more information about the Raise the Age campaign, visit www.raisetheagemi.org.

— Hakim C.

2017: A blog odyssey, part deux

Earlier this month when I was working on a recap of our best blogs of 2017, it was becoming more of a Casey Kasem Top 40 than a David Letterman Top Ten. While it’s nice to look back at what was shared the most, that’s just one measurement of a blog’s importance and resonance. As the editor of our blog, I was particularly proud of the issues we tackled in 2017, and I think you will be, too. Here are some of the other great blogs and pressing policy issues that I wanted to highlight from the past year.

We had a firsthand account of a 17-year-old’s experience being treated like an adult in the justice system, and why we need to “Raise the Age.”

The League hired a new policy fellow, Victoria Crouse, who wrote several blogs on the experiences of an immigrant family and the threats many immigrants have faced in the last year—including the Muslim Ban(s) and the elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

BestBlogsOf2017We continue to lift up racial equity, and the historic and systemic issues that have contributed to current disparities. With 2017 being the 50th Anniversary of the racial uprising in Detroit, we had the opportunity to share the perspectives of our community engagement director Renell Weathers and our CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs who were both living in the Detroit area at the time. We also tackled the harrowing incident in Charlottesville both directly and in a broader policy context.

Through our blogs and our policy work, the League also keeps speaking up for women’s issues, the policies that benefit them and the political rhetoric that doesn’t.

One of the perks of having an economist as our board chair is that we were able to draw on the expertise of Charles Ballard for a look at the Affordable Care Act from an economic angle.

The League’s blog certainly tackled some heavy topics, but we also try to have some fun with it. Our work covers the same range of emotions that our lives do, and the blog is meant to reflect that.

The League put together a couple blogs that allowed all of the staff to share some personal perspectives on what we were thankful for and how healthcare had benefited many of our lives.

We got to do a fun interview-style blog with Phyllis Killips, who celebrated 40 years of service the League this year.

We had great blogs from our interns from the past year—Casey Paskus, Lorenzo Santavicca, Eric Staats and Mallory Boyce.

And in honor of having a Friday the 13th fall in October in 2017, I managed to meld my love for horror movies and progressive public policy in 13 things Congress has in common with Jason Voorhees. I also realized an 11-year dream of making a pun that combines state revenue estimates and an Ice Cube reference.

Our staff and supporters all care about the same things (well, most of the same things—see above), and our blog is one way we can connect on that. Stay tuned to our social media to see what we’ll be working on and writing about in the coming year, and you can also subscribe to our blog via email or RSS feed to get updates directly. Thanks for reading!

— Alex Rossman

Nowhere to go but up on racial equity

I had the privilege recently of chaperoning my daughter’s fourth-grade class to our local children’s museum for two days in a row. Wow, they are amazing little people, who are also full of an enormous amount of energy (Thank you to all the teachers who care for these kiddos every day of the school year!).

"Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren hopes to watch her daughter grow up in an equitable world."

“Kids Count Director Alicia Guevara Warren hopes to watch her daughter grow up in an equitable world.”

Our school district is one of the most diverse districts in the state—something we are very proud of! As a woman of color raising a child of color who has friends of many backgrounds (and as a data geek), I couldn’t help but think about all of the data on racial disparities as I observed this group of bright and curious elementary students. The experience magnified for me the importance of working to help implement strategies to start changing outcomes for all kids, but especially for kids of color who disproportionately face barriers to opportunity.

A report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and national KIDS COUNT project, Race for Results, revealed some very disturbing information: African-American kids in Michigan fare worse in child well-being than their peers in every other state in the country. That’s right, worse than Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama—states that all fall in the bottom rankings nationally for overall child well-being. Out of a child well-being index score of up to 1,000, African-American kids in Michigan score 260, while the national average—albeit troubling as well—was 369. That’s a difference of over a hundred.

When we look at how most kids of color in Michigan fare compared to their White peers, not only are their index scores significantly lower, but their well-being by key milestones in early childhood, education and early work experiences, family resources and neighborhood context are also worse. How did we get here and how do we change this?

A quick look at history shows how many disparities were created and perpetuated over time. And many of today’s policy decisions have led to the overrepresentation of people and kids of color in the child welfare and justice systems, disparate job and educational opportunities and unfair targeting in immigration policies. This has to change. Michigan’s future depends on how well we care for all children, and that includes eliminating current racial and ethnic disparities that appear in just about every indicator of child well-being.

UpdatedMI_RaceForResults_social-index-state_v4We need to urge our policymakers—at all levels of government—to use a racial and ethnic equity lens to review current and proposed policies. Some local governments in Michigan, like Grand Rapids and Washtenaw County, have started taking those steps by joining the Government Alliance on Racial Equity to use tools to address and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their communities.

As child advocates we can also support efforts like “Raise the Age” to address racial disparities in the justice system. The most recent figures show that while kids of color make-up only 23% of the 17-year-old population in Michigan, they are 53% of the total number of 17-year-olds entering our state’s corrections system. By raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 years old, we can ensure that kids are treated like kids and receive age-appropriate treatment and services and begin reducing the lifelong consequences that these youth of color endure with an adult criminal record. This is only one example of how we can start addressing disparities in outcomes for kids of color. There are many others.

My community is important to me—as yours is to you! I want to be sure that as I’m watching my daughter and her classmates grow up that we are doing our best to implement solutions that work to remove barriers for children and families of color, so that all of our kids have access to better opportunities to reach their potential, and so that Michigan is stronger and better for everyone.

— Alicia Guevara-Warren, Kids Count in Michigan Project Director