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Bills aimed at overhauling Michigan's juvenile justice system pass through Legislature

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Michigan Radio
A sweeping package of bills that passed through the Legislature Wednesday aims to overhaul Michigan's juvenile justice system, focusing on rehabilitation and treatment rather than detention.

A large package of bills aimed at overhauling Michigan's juvenile justice system passed through the House and the Senate Wednesday evening, coming one step closer to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's desk.

The suite of 20 bills addresses what some members of Michigan's Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform say are gaps in uniform policies and rehabilitative care for youths in the justice system.

Jason Smith is the Executive Director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. He said the bill package moves policy towards rehabilitation for juveniles and away from punishment.

“It will make it more equitable, fair, and put the focus on treatment, and addressing a young person’s needs, or the reasons why they come in contact with the juvenile justice system in the first place. The goal is to hopefully reduce any kind of further contact and increase public safety in the long run,” Smith said.

Whitmer established the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform in June 2021 with goals to assess the state's juvenile justice system and recommend changes to laws and policies that aren't effective in aiding youth rehabilitation.

"We cannot allow an early mistake to define the rest of a child's life, especially if it's a non-violent offense," Whitmer said during a news conference announcing the creation of the task force.

Some of the goals of the bills include eliminating many fines and fees for juveniles and their families, providing them with more effective legal counsel, and providing counseling and other mental health treatment rather than time in detention facilities.

“We’re really excited about these changes. This is a historic moment for Michigan. This is meaningful change, transformational change that, if enacted, will uplift the lives of our young people who come in contact with the juvenile justice system,” Smith said

Beth Weiler is a newsroom intern covering the environment.
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