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Advocates: Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center crisis demands alternatives to incarceration

person in grey hoodie wearing handcuffs
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A Detroit Free Press investigation calls attention to serious understaffing at Wayne County's Juvenile Detention Center.

A juvenile justice group is urging Wayne County to fix what it calls a crisis at the county's Juvenile Detention facility.

That's in the wake of a Detroit Free Press report showing young offenders have been kept in their cells for days at a time without exercise or showers, because there aren't enough staff at the facility.

Jason Smith is head of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. He says staffing shortages are affecting detention centers across the country, but he says there is a solution that's been tried very recently and which does not put public safety at risk.

Smith says many lower-risk young offenders were placed in home detention and community programs instead of jail at the start of the pandemic.

"We should go back to the mindset we had just a year or so ago that we need to limit the number of young people going into detention centers as much as possible," said Smith. "Placement in secure detention should be limited to young people who are an immediate and significant safety risk either to themselves or others.  Beyond that, they should not be in detention."

But a statement from Wayne County about its plans makes no mention of that.

County officials say they'll move some young offenders to an empty adult jail to relieve overcrowding.

State officials say there will also be more funding available soon to increase salaries and hire more staff.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.