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Task Force Urges Policy Reform to Keep MI Kids Out of Juvenile Justice System

Young people who have run-ins with the juvenile justice system are more likely to end up in the adult system. The Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform has approved a set of recommendations this week to change that.

The goals are to improve community safety, reduce disparities and improve outcomes. The recommendations range from expanding diversion programs and funding community-based alternatives to incarceration, to creating a statewide juvenile public defense system and increasing data collection to identify racial disparities, said Jason Smith, executive director of the


Michigan Center for Youth Justice.

"We are extremely happy," he said, "that the recommendation to eliminate fines and fees - juvenile court fees that impose huge immense burdens on young people and families - that that was included in the recommendations and voted on unanimously, including by judges and prosecutors."

Smith noted that the task force was comprised of court administrators, judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, advocates, and young people and their families. He said he hopes legislators will make these recommendations into law as soon as possible.

Other recommendations include creating an advisory board of young people and their families to guide changes in the future, as well as strengthening standards for probation and residential programs.

State Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, said the goal is to keep young people in the juvenile-justice system from entering the adult system when they are old enough.

"I think whatever we can do as a legislative body to make sure that we are putting in the necessary tools and supports to redirect that behavior," she said, "but also redirect them towards a path forward, versus a proverbial cycle of being part of the criminal-justice system."

She said investing in youths while they are young will save Michigan money in the long run. One study shows keeping just one child from dropping out of school, using drugs and entering the system can save more than $2.5 million.

Originally from just outside Boston, Lily Bohlke is formerly from 2020Talks, a show tracking politics and elections, that started prior to the 2020 Iowa caucuses at KHOI in Ames. She's also a past intern for the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism.
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