Michigan lawmakers pass juvenile justice system reforms


(The Center Square) – Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist recently signed into law a package of 19 juvenile justice system reform bills, representing a bipartisan push toward broader diversion and reentry programs for the state’s youth.

The bill package is based upon findings by the 2021 Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, which gave 32 legislation suggestions. The task force found more than 60% of minors in prison were incarcerated for misdemeanors or smaller crimes, such as continued truancy or running away from home.

“Every young person deserves the chance to be successful,” Gilchrist said. “This historic legislation will hold our youth accountable while changing how they experience the justice system, expanding the available tools to create better outcomes, lower costs for families by eliminating fees, and ensure our juvenile justice system uses consistent research-based practices.”

The first part of the package is focused upon implementing further diversion programs, rather than initially bringing the delinquent minor to court. Risk and mental health screening will determine whether the minor is directed to a diversion program or directly to court.

“Michigan will now require the use of risk screening and mental health screening tools before a diversion decision is made for a minor,” Rep. Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac said. “These tools can help in crafting the plan of support for these children, equipping them with the opportunity to change the trajectory of their young lives by getting the proper mental health care needed. This is the reform we need.”

The diversion bills passed include HB 4625 by Carter; HB 4626 by Rep. Kara Hope, D-Holt; HB 4628 by Rep. Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield; and HB 4629 by Rep. Amos O’Neal, D-Saginaw.

“As a parent who once had a child involved in the juvenile justice system due to his mental health and as a former juvenile justice Task Force member, seeing the new juvenile justice bills pass gives me hope that children and families who have justice involvement will receive tailored support that will meet the needs of the whole family,” said Cole Williams, CEO and Founder of Cole Speaks. “We thank the governor and lieutenant governor for helping to support families like mine.”

State senators Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, and Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe, sponsored SBs 418 and 421 to allow for the Child Care Fund, the primary funding mechanism for the juvenile justice system in Michigan, to fund further preventative programs.

Four additional bills were passed relating to alleviating juvenile court fees. HB 4636 was sponsored by Rep. Emily Dievendorf, D-Lansing; HB 4637 was sponsored by Rep. Carol Glanville, D-Walker; SB 428 was sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; and SB 429 was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor.

“We have heard so many stories of families who have been saddled with enormous debt from arbitrary fines and fees that do nothing to help young people become more productive members of their communities and, in fact, have become enormous barriers to progress,” Chang said.

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