Jodi S. Cohen, ProPublica, and Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other state leaders on Wednesday announced the creation of a task force to improve how the state handles young offenders, saying the juvenile justice system has been failing its children.
Whitmer created the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform and asked it to collect data from the state and its counties to better understand not only how Michigan treats juveniles who break the law, but how to reduce the number of young adults in the system and prevent them from entering it at all. Too many young people are incarcerated for noncriminal offenses, she said; a ProPublica investigation last year found Michigan does so more than almost any other state.
Credit:Cydni Elledge, special to ProPublica
“Grace’s situation was a complete and systemic failure of our juvenile justice system,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, a Democrat from Detroit, said. “Simply put, incarceration was the wrong response.”
ProPublica’s analysis of limited federal data found that Grace’s case was extreme, but not unique. Michigan children regularly are incarcerated for probation violations and other noncriminal offenses even as many states have moved away from doing so. On a single day in 2017, about 30% of the young people confined to detention and residential facilities in Michigan were there for noncriminal offenses, compared with 17% for the country overall, the analysis found.
At the time, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement pledged to work with leaders from the executive, legislative and judicial branches in the state to reform the juvenile justice system.
On Wednesday, Clement said the task force’s proposals “must be dictated by data and with the help of those most affected by the problems.
“Data will drive solutions and make sure all the partners in the system are accountable,” she said. “By working together, we can … keep kids out of detention and shut down the school-to-prison pipeline. Our first focus must be on keeping kids out of the system.”