Children (and teenagers) are not small adults. That basic fact, recognized by any parent or teacher, is backed by voluminous scientific research and legal doctrine. Yet too frequently, young people’s mistakes are criminalized—often leading to a downward spiral that can carry severe consequences.
Tethering a young person to the justice system, moreover, is unlikely to be rehabilitative. Most young people will simply “age out” of crime. And far from catalyzing brain development, punishment often interfereswith it. A decade-long, intensive economic study demonstrates that incarcerating young people makes it more likely they’ll commit crimes again. That is in many ways unsurprising. Young people are more susceptible to trauma and to fear than adults, so a punitive approach can severely stunt a child’s neurological, emotional, and social growth
Accordingly, it is the policy of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid charging juveniles with minor offenses that are best resolved outside of the criminal-justice system. These include, but are not limited to, minor school-based offenses that can be better addressed without involvement of the criminal legal system. The Prosecutor’s Office is in the process of building out community partnerships that will allow for effective, rehabilitative, non-criminal interventions for youthful mistakes. In the interim, however, the Prosecutor’s Office will avoid the unnecessary tethering of young people to the criminal-justice system—an outcome that does more harm than good.