Few things are worse than, as a young adult, making a mistake and having that mistake haunt you for the rest of your life. Attaching the stigma of a juvenile criminal record to the mistake and the individual has hurdles to overcome when their life has only just begun.
Under review by the Michigan Committee on Criminal Justice are HB 4206, as well as HB 4294, introduced by 9th House District Representative Harvey Santana.
Currently, courts may choose to designate an individual as a youthful trainee as long as they are between 17 and 20, alleged to have committed a crime, who has pleaded guilty to that crime, and could be placed in prison or on probation without a conviction to avoid a criminal record. HB 4206 would expand the eligible age to the last day of a person’s 25th birthday. This bill also requires the trainee have a 40 hour work week, be enrolled in school, college, or university full time, complete 40 hours of community service per week, or a combination of these. This comes with the assurance that trainee will have gained employment, knowledge, and a skill set to be a productive member of society.
HB 4206 would allow an individual to be designated as a youthful trainee more than once, so if they were to appear before a court for a second charge, they could again receive the chance to prove to the courts, and the community, they are committed to being a productive member of society, even if having had made another mistake.
Apart from giving youth a second chance at life, these bills have a deeper meaning to me. When I was 19 and living near Lansing, MI, I was in an automobile accident and the driver of the other vehicle did not survive. The family, understandably grief stricken, requested of the judge that I serve jail time; however, the judge ordered me placed on 3 years of probation, ordered community service, and assigned the status of youthful trainee to me.
Today I am a proud husband and father of 2 wonderful children. I am an honors graduate of Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. I am employed by Northern Lakes Community Mental Health working with children and families – many of whom are involved in the juvenile justice system, and I am currently a graduate student at the Michigan State University School of Social Work earning my Master degree in Clinical Social Work. Without the second chance the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act afforded me, I don’t know that I would be where I am today.
If you feel as I do, I urge you to contact Representative Joel Johnson’s office at (855) 563-5597 or by email at JoelJohnson@house.mi.gov and urge him to support these bills and give Michigan youth a second chance when mistakes are made.
Jason Luna, LLBSW