Task force to study reforms for Michigan's juvenile justice system

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
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Lansing — A bipartisan task force will undertake a year-long review of state policy, data and stakeholder input to guide reform of the state's criminal justice system. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Bipartisan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform through executive order Wednesday to address Michigan's youth detention rate, which she said is one of the highest rates in the nation. 

"We cannot allow an early mistake to define the rest of a child's life, especially with a nonviolent offense," Whitmer said during a Wednesday press conference. 

The task force will include county and state leaders, members of the juvenile justice system, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers. 

The group will partner with the Council for State Governments to gather data on youth arrests, incarceration and recidivism. A report detailing findings and providing policy recommendation is expected to be completed by June 22, 2022.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs an executive order during a Lansing press conference to create a bipartisan task force to study and improve Michigan's juvenile justice system on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

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The effort builds on recent legislation that increased expungement eligibility, reformed civil asset forfeiture, changed sentencing guidelines and raised the age for juvenile case adjudication.

The task force will mirror the work of the Bipartisan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which collected data from jails, courts and public hearings to make a host of reform recommendations, some of which have already moved through the Legislature.

But there is still room to improve the youth system, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said. 

He referenced the case of a 15-year-old Oakland County girl named Grace whose months-long detainment drew national condemnation because it was punishment for missed homework amid the pandemic. 

"Grace's situation was a complete and systemic failure of our juvenile justice system," Gilchrist said. "Grace deserved better. Her family, her school, her classmates, her community deserve better, too.

"...Today we are initiating a process that will fix the system that failed Grace and so many others," he said. 

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement said Wednesday that the group will work to get its arms around the data driving poor outcomes for youth. The first focus, Clement said, "must be on keeping kids out of the system."

"We know that kids' are still falling through the cracks," Clement said. "We know we can do better and Michigan's judiciary is ready to work with this task force so that we can reimagine our juvenile justice system and make a positive difference in the lives of more youth and families."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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