Michigan House passes bipartisan bills aimed at improving juvenile justice system

State Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) speaks at the state Capitol in Lansing. (Courtesy/Michigan House Democrats)

By Michigan Advance

October 18, 2023

BY ANNA LIZ NICHOLS, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—Bills that passed the Michigan House on Tuesday will allow juveniles involved in the criminal justice system to better navigate it and grow from the experience, sponsor Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt) said on the House floor.

Hope outlined how the bills would increase juveniles’ access to affordable legal representation, create infrastructure to divert kids away from court when appropriate and give those in the court system opportunities to identify more solutions in and out of court that can lead to healing for kids.

“We’re also making some bold statements, like we care about kids… all kids,” Hope said.

The House passed a large chunk of a bipartisan package of bills stemming from recommendations made by the state’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform made up of individuals from multiple fields and backgrounds interested in improving juveniles’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) served on the panel last year alongside state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and others.

“The changes we’re making now will help build a brighter future for our youth and our communities,” Lightner said. “Backed by rigorous data and research, this plan renews our efforts to improve the lives of young people and their families, all while ensuring the sensible use of taxpayer dollars on proven programs and practices. Our commitment to equipping those involved in the juvenile justice system with the best practices reflects our dedication to nurturing troubled kids and, in turn, fostering safer communities.”

Under the legislation, specifically HB 4625, there would be a new set of protocols, requiring risk screening and mental health screening in order for courts to make decisions in diverting youth from court or placing them in consent calendar proceedings. Youth charged with assaultive crimes would not be eligible for this diversion.

Additionally, in the case of informal consent calendar proceedings during which juveniles are given a plan of services and actions to be completed, HB 4628 would require risk and mental health screenings to determine eligibility for such hearings, which can allow for more personalized solutions for juveniles.

As a clinical psychologist, HB 4628 sponsor Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.) spoke on the House floor about the importance of identifying mental health needs when addressing what is best for juveniles.

“Implementing these crucial tools will lend to the success and process of [a juvenile] through the criminal justice system. This legislation directly helps Michigan’s criminal justice system make more informed decisions and choices for a young person’s future. It also allows a monitoring system to get Michigan children the help that they need when they need it,” Brabec said. “There’s no better way to help our kids than to ensure that they are in a space that helps them succeed and move forward.”

HB 4633 would add criteria in the consideration of trying juveniles as adults to include examining a juvenile’s mental health and emotional well-being, in addition to their response to treatment services.

Under HB 4626, there would be a three month limit on how long minors could be held in a treatment program per a diversion agreement, unless the law enforcement official or court intake worker determines that more time is necessary in order for the minor to complete a specific program. Documentation explaining this extension would be required.

HB 4629 outlines screening requirements to be implemented before a juvenile is remanded to a secure facility.

“Let’s do the right thing by our children and ensure [our] detention system has access to all the tools needed to ensure that kids be rehabilitated and returned to us ready to return to their lives,” said Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), who sponsored HB 4625.

Some of the bills passed that would roll the Children’s Ombudsman Office into the Office of the Child Advocate: HB 4639, HB 4640 and HB 4643. The entirety of the bills concerning the office would alter responsibilities to include overseeing complaints concerning juvenile justice facilities.

HB 4630 would expand language in Michigan law to include juveniles as possible indigent defendants and would require at least one individual with “substantial” knowledge of the juvenile justice system to be appointed to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. Members of the commission, appointed by the governor, work to implement protocols to offer pathways for justice for those who can’t, without significant financial burden, obtain qualified legal representation.

HB 4636 and HB 4637 would eliminate late fees on penalties and fees owed to the court by juvenile defendants and strike out requirements that juveniles pay the court for the cost of care while they are in an institution or agency.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.

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