Justice for Kids & Communities Full Bill Package Sign-On Letter (Senate)

Dear Senator,

As a concerned citizen, I urge you to support reforming state laws related to Michigan’s juvenile justice system.

In July 2022, the bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force, formed by Governor Whitmer and led by Lt. Governor Gilchrist, released 32 recommendations for improving Michigan’s juvenile justice system. There are six key recommendations that will provide transformative change to our juvenile justice system.

The Task Force recommends enhancing the Child Care Fund (CCF) - the primary statewide juvenile justice funding structure - by establishing a minimum framework of juvenile justice best practices statewide, including the use of risk screening and assessment tools to inform decision making. The pending legislation will increase the reimbursement rate for counties and tribes to incentivize and support the development, expansion, and strengthening of community based services and normal alternatives to detention and incarceration.

Michigan youth face an immense burden from a variety of fees and costs for their involvement in the juvenile justice system, regardless of their ability to pay. These costs may include: court administration fees, electronic ankle monitor, detention, probation supervision, and at times public defenders. Young people cannot afford to pay these fees. Families and youth have reported choosing between paying their mounting court fees or necessities like rent and groceries. Those who are unable to pay often face extended probation, court visits, loss or inability to gain a license or even jail. Juvenile court fines particularly hinder the success of low-income and Black families in the state of Michigan. This continues the cycle of justice-involved youth and ultimately harms children, their families, and their community. The current legislation does not impact a judge’s ability to order victim restitution or fees related to the Crimes Victims Fund.

Additional recommendations from the Task Force including expanding the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC). The expansion will include development, oversight, and compliance with youth defense standards in local county defense systems and expand the State Appellate Defender Office to include appellate services for juveniles, which will include post-dispositional services. This is key to ensuring our youth have access to equitable representation. In addition to expanding the MIDC, pending legislation has the opportunity to expand the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman to handle, investigate, and report incidents at juvenile facilities. I urge you to also support enhancing traditional waivers and designations to allow the courts to better account for a youth’s developmental maternity and emotional and mental health.

Finally, this impactful reform package proposes expanding the Juvenile Diversion Act to increase access to diversion programs, such as pre-court diversion utilizing a risk screening tool and other relevant factors. Additionally, it seeks to establish limits on the duration of a youth's participation in pre-court diversion, while still allowing for local discretion in determining program duration.

I urge you to support SB 0418 - 0437 and vote yes to supporting our children, families, and communities.