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Lt. Gov. Gilchrist signs juvenile justice package

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist holds up freshly signed laws surrounded by lawmakers, government officials, and other supporters in Detroit, MI
Colin Jackson
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist holds up freshly signed laws surrounded by lawmakers, government officials, and other supporters in Detroit, MI

Young people in Michigan’s corrections system will soon have more chances to undergo behavioral risk and mental health screenings as a way of diverting them from detention.

That’s under a new juvenile justice package Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist signed into law Tuesday.

At the bill signing, Gilchrist told attendees the current system was letting kids down.

“Every system that does something other than prepare a young person to be successful is a system that desperately needs to be reformed. And that is what this whole effort represents,” Gilchrist said.

The legislation comes from a list of recommendationsthe Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform released in July 2022.

It was made up of representatives from a variety of government and stakeholder positions, including the executive and judicial branches, county governments, law enforcement, and justice-reform organizations.

Recommendations focused on areas like systemic structure and funding, diversion, and equity.

State Representative Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) was a member of the group. She sponsored part of the diversion screenings legislation that made it into law.

“These tools can help in crafting the plan of support for these children, equipping them with opportunities to change the trajectory of their young lives, returning home to their families, and coming back to our communities and not returning to the system,” Carter said.

One of the goals was to create a sense of uniformity across the state for children going through the criminal justice system.

Some of the new policies are already in use in places like Wayne County, where Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the tactics have been working.

“So, we believe in it, we’re glad that the focus is on this now and for some of my colleagues across the state, in certain areas, it’s going to give them kind of the legitimacy that they need to carry on. And so we’ve been trying to encourage them for a long time to do these things and maybe this will. Especially since there are going to be dedicated resources,” Worthy said.

Aside from increasing access to jail diversion, the new juvenile justice laws also prohibit courts from assessing court fines and fees associated with a juvenile’s detention and care.

The bills in the bipartisan-sponsored package received Democratic and Republican votes in both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

But at least one Republican lawmaker had expressed concerns that limiting the courts' ability to recoup costs could leave them on the hook for when a juvenile in the system breaks or damages expensive equipment, like a tether.

Elsewhere in the package, new laws rework existing state resources to better serve children in the criminal justice system. They also add new factors into whether to charge a child as an adult and aim to address indigent defense systems for youths.

But Gilchrist admits there’s still more work to be done.

“We’re going to continue to work on how do we raise the floor, frankly, for the type of defense that can be made available to young people who are in the system,” Gilchrist said.

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