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Michigan task force on juvenile justice reform to issue final report this week

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Nearly ten months after coming together, the “Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform” is close to giving its final recommendations.

The task force—made up of lawmakers, judges, law enforcement, and advocates—plans to release its full report this later this week.

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist said programming and diversion away from the justice system make up a large part of the recommendations.

“We want to make sure that all of our systems in our community are set up for young people to be engaged, for young people to be successful. And we also know that outcomes have shown that deep contact with the juvenile justice system has not always led to children being positioned for success once they’re finished,” Gilchrist told reporters Monday.

His comments came following the task force’s final meeting where it reached consensus.

The lieutenant governor said there are 25 recommendations in all. It will be up to lawmakers and other officials to implement the changes.

State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement said there’s broad support from the judiciary. She said the goal is to direct low-level youth offenders into programs rather than the justice system.

“What the recommendation is, is that that is the expectation and that if that’s not going to happen and a kid is actually going to be brought into the court system, that the judge needs to explain why,” Clement said.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said legislation is coming to provide more standards for handling cases when a child’s family can’t afford a lawyer.

“Right now, there really isn’t a standard for juvenile indigent defense. We do have an adult system that we handle that with, so right now lots of fines and fees are placed on families,” Lightner said, “we’re trying to lift that burden.”

Some of the proposed changes, like supporting young people with indigent defense dollars, will require additional spending from the state Legislature.

State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) said she expects all three branches of government to work in unison to get that done.

“Investing in programs to help to support youth in their communities is one of the key priorities to making sure we’re diverting them out of the detention centers,” Santana said.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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