New Michigan task force to investigate state’s juvenile justice system

A final report will include recommendations to better rehabilitate juvenile offenders
 The Genesee Valley Regional Center houses juvenile offenders ages 10 to 17.
The Genesee Valley Regional Center houses juvenile offenders ages 10 to 17. (WJRT)
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 1:11 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - A new task force will take a look at all aspects of Michigan’s juvenile justice system to find areas for improvement.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan Supreme Court justices and other politicians announced the new Task Force on Juvenile Justice on Wednesday.

Republican State Rep. Sarah Lightner of Springport, who is a longtime advocate of juvenile justice reform, said changes have helped the system over the past few years, but Michigan still has one of the highest rates of juvenile detention among the 50 states.

“Once a kid is detained in the juvenile justice system, it is incredibly hard for them to move beyond it. Without the proper tools and support, they end up stuck in a revolving cycle,” Lightner said. “We must find solutions that give young people who make mistakes a path to get back on track with their lives.”

The new task force will develop recommendations for changes in state laws, policies and spending priorities to improve outcomes for youth who wind up in the state’s juvenile justice system.

“This task force is going to identify the next steps to build a smarter and better juvenile justice system for all Michigan families and help gather the data we need to get a clear picture of where we need to make responsible reforms,” Lightner said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with leaders across the state that share my passion for this issue.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II will serve as chairman of the juvenile justice task force. He said the task force will be another step toward his goal of reforming Michigan’s justice system to make communities safer and improve outcomes of people who come in contact with it.

“This Task Force will examine a system that is not working,” Gilchrist said. “Michigan still detains youth at one of the highest rates in the nation and is nearly unparalleled in our practice of detaining youth for non-criminal behavior. Today we begin a new process to change this system in a way that will position these young Michiganders for success.”

Whitmer said the task force will be another step toward making Michigan a leader in justice reform. She pointed to the new criminal expungement law she enacted in April, which allows people convicted of certain crimes to have their records cleared eventually.

“We believe that we must reduce people’s contact with the system in the first place, but when they do come into contact, we must especially treat our youngest Michiganders with dignity, humanity, and respect,” Whitmer said. “One mistake early on in a child’s life should not destroy their opportunities for a positive future.”

Lightner already is working on House Bill 4620 to ensure children have access to effective legal counsel and House Bill 4174 to collect juvenile justice data from around Michigan. Both bills are pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

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