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Senate approves respective juvenile justice legislation


The Michigan Senate passed legislation to rework the state’s juvenile justice system Thursday.

The package would create more uniform statewide policies, prevent kids from having to pay court costs, and require the development of mental health and risk screenings to help with diversion decisions.

Senator Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) said the goal is to keep kids out of the adult criminal justice system.

“When you think about if we’re putting those resources back into the community, that’s helping kids who are non-violent to get on the right path and also making sure that, structurally, the system works. Right now, it was broken as it currently stood,” Santana said.

Critics of the package have raised concerns about its potential impact on courts.

During Senate voting Thursday, Senator Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) said the policy could hurt court budgets.

“The bill does not seem to allow for the recovery of court monies spent on damaged, lost equipment. For example, the juvenile cuts off a tether or otherwise destroys or loses it. They are very expensive. And the court would be unable to recoup that money,” Runestad said.

The legislation is a reflection of the recommendations from the state's Task Force on Juvenile Justice, formed in 2021.

Another part of the package would create a new state Office of the Child Advocate out of the old Children’s Ombudsman Office.

Senator Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) said the move would strengthen the agency.

He said the new Office of the Child Advocate would have "more empowerment" and "a stronger voice. "The ombudsman was more of a neutral player. Here, we’re going to have more proactive, pro-voice for our children of the state,” Victory said.

Each bill in the package passed with bipartisan support.

Overall, the legislation is part of a nearly 20-bill package split between the House and the Senate.

The House had been scheduled to vote on its part of the package Thursday but ran out of time. A vote could come in that chamber as early as Tuesday.

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