Do juveniles understand their rights? Maybe not

Capital News Service

LANSING — Through TV shows and movies, many Americans became familiar with Miranda rights for arrested suspects, but how well do juveniles understand those rights — to remain silent and to have a lawyer, even if they can’t afford to pay for one?

Not well at all, some experts say.

An American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry study concluded that the Miranda rights are too complex and advanced for juveniles to understand.

Its report prompted police departments across the nation to develop and employ a simplified explanation for juveniles in custody.

In Washington state, for instance, the sheriff’s office in King County worked with the public defender’s office and a community nonprofit group to come up with simplified warnings.

Miranda rights go back to 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court mandated that law enforcement agencies advise suspects in custody about those rights before interrogation.

The Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice found that 10,728 crimes by juveniles were reported in the state in 2016.

John McKaig, who chairs the children’s law section of the State Bar of Michigan, said that when a suspect is in custody, “the police have to give you your Miranda warnings and tell you what you’re being charged with.”

McKaig, a lawyer in Mancelona, said juveniles “watch television, but if understanding their rights is a problem, the judge will understand that immediately and appoint an attorney.”

Lisa Halushka, an assistant dean at the Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School campus in Auburn Hills, said, in Michigan, “There’s no written law or legislation that suggests that the police have to jump through extra hoops in order to get a juvenile confession admitted. However, law enforcement officers — to the extent that they can — ensure that juveniles understand their rights.”

There’s case law in Michigan suggesting that courts look at additional factors for juveniles than for adults, said Halushka.

That position was confirmed by Bill Vailliencourt, the Livingston County prosecutor.

“The court determines whether the rights were properly explained and waived. It looks at individual cases and the totality of circumstances,” he said.

Vailliencourt is vice president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

Factors such as age, whether an adult or custodian was present during questioning, the juvenile’s background, education, prior experience with criminal law, mental and emotional health are all considered in determining whether the suspect fully understood his or her rights and knowingly waived them.

Vailliencourt explained that the state Supreme Court has expressed confidence in the language outlined in the Miranda rights and has repeatedly upheld it as adequate.

In the case of juveniles, the police have the flexibility to explain Miranda rights differently in different circumstances, he said.

Asked whether simplified warnings make it less likely that juveniles will confess to a crime as Miranda rights critics claim, Halushka  said, “That’s naïve.

“It’s human nature to want to talk ourselves out of a hole. Simplified Miranda warnings can help facilitate that process,” she said.

While simplified Miranda rights could be easier to understand,  Vailliencourt said that raises concerns.

“I can understand why the police may be reluctant to tailor how they present Miranda rights in specific cases. The court could question whether the language used was appropriate. If it’s found not to be, the court can suppress the juvenile’s confession,” he said.

Will the state consider adopting new Miranda rights for juveniles?

Halushka said, “I can’t speak into what Michigan will do, but I would rather see well redrafted Miranda rights in compliance with the current recommendations, read in court and approved by a judge rather than having protracted hearings.”

The question of whether Miranda rights are appropriate for juveniles comes at a time when Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill seeking to change Michigans juvenile criminal justice laws by raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18.

Supporters of  his legislation argue that 17-year-olds are still developing mentally and,  just as they can’t vote, rent a car or buy cigarettes, they shouldn’t be treated as adults in criminal proceedings.

The bill is pending in the House Law and Justice Committee.

With high stakes, state gears up for census

Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s that time of decade again.

Though the next U.S. census won’t take place until 2020, Michigan and other states will soon begin the groundwork to prepare the country for its upcoming headcount.

With more than 327 million people to be counted, states will be responsible for confirming federal address lists and making sure new residents are identified and their addresses recorded.

Michigan employs a full-time state demographer, Eric Guthrie, dedicated to leading its census preparation efforts.

Guthrie serves as Michigan’s liaison to the US Census Bureau regarding the Federal and State Cooperative for Population Estimates, a collection of state-level agencies that review, update and verify population estimates.

“This is kind of an ‘all hands on deck’ type of situation, where the federal government is handling the actual nuts-and-bolts setup and everybody is working together to make sure the work itself that needs to happen” gets done, Guthrie said.

Among other purposes, census data is used to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. With a population of 9,883,640 according to the 2010 census, Michigan currently has 14 congressional districts.

The information also affects distribution of federal aid.

More than $589 billion was distributed between the states and Washington D.C. through “census-guided” programs in the 2015 fiscal year, according to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy.

The 2020 census will be the first census in which all forms can be filled out electronically, a major change that Guthrie said he hopes will not only make it easier for individuals to respond, but will cut costs as well.

“The census is a very important project that will affect every area for the next decade in terms of representation and funding,” Guthrie said. “Everything we can do to make sure it’s successful will be for the common good.”

The Local Update of Census Addresses Operation, or LUCA, a program allowing local governments to compare their address lists to the Census Bureau’s, will begin in February. LUCA will help to make sure the Census Bureau’s address list is as accurate as possible for the coming count, he said.

“Which is highly important, because the census is essentially a household survey,” Guthrie said.

“In order for the census to make sure it reaches every household, it has to have the most current address list possible.”

In addition to LUCA, Guthrie will begin a state-level review of Michigan’s address list. The state recently hired two full-time demographic analysts who will help with preparation efforts, he said.

“Every administrative unit in the state is offered an opportunity, so that goes down to Michigan’s smallest village and township all the way up to the city of Detroit and the state,” Guthrie said. “They will get the list of all the addresses within their jurisdiction.”

Different-sized units might employ different methods, Guthrie said.

Small areas might use paper address lists and perform their comparisons manually, while Guthrie, working with several million addresses on the state level, might make electronic comparisons to look for areas with the largest discrepancies.

A large part of census preparation is getting the word out and making sure people understand why it’s important, Guthrie said. That becomes more complicated for more sparsely-populated areas that might lack resources.

“When we start thinking about more rural, spread-out populations that are not able to participate, that makes the process of counting those persons more labor-intensive on the Census Bureau’s part and may result in more difficulty counting those populations,” Guthrie said.

Michigan will participate in LUCA on a statewide level, but a large number of individual counties are not participating, including many in the Upper Peninsula and the Northeast Lower Peninsula.

LUCA efforts require local governments to use their own staff and resources, which might be one of many reasons certain areas decide not to participate, Guthrie said.

Wexford County and Cadillac are both individually participating in LUCA, according to the Census Bureau..

Meanwhile, Gladwin County is not participating and will be counted by the state, but Gladwin and other communities within the county will participate individually.

Clare County is not participating in LUCA and will be counted by the state.

Guthrie said, “I’m going to do the best I can to review areas that didn’t sign up to participate, but I’m at the largest level. I’m going to supply whatever addresses I can find that the census doesn’t have, but I might not have them all myself.”

Women say sexism still exists in Michigan legislature

Capital News Service

LANSING — When Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was a state representative in 2012, she was silenced on the floor of the House for using the word vasectomy.

The same day her colleague, Lisa Brown, now the Oakland County Clerk, was silenced on the floor for saying vagina. Both women were banned from speaking on the floor.

When Byrum’s mother, Dianne Byrum, was elected to the Michigan Senate in 1998, a sergeant of arms reprimanded her for allowing her son to sit in her seat for a family photo.

“That would not have happened to a male senator,” Dianne Byrum said.

Sexism was common when they served in the  Legislature, the women said.  

Has anything changed?

“I doubt it,” Barb Byrum said.

A litany of sexual assault and harassment allegations has rocked Congress, sports and Hollywood recently. Many of the accused men have lost their jobs, and allegations appear almost daily. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by women who serve or have served in the  state Legislature.

In state legislatures nationwide the number of women lag men nearly 4 to 1. Michigan is just below the national average with 23.6 percent of state lawmakers who are female, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona leads the nation with a legislature that is 40 percent female.

Thirty-one of the 110 Michigan House districts are represented by women. Four of the 38 Senate districts have female senators

That’s hardly progress, according to women who serve today.

“In 1921 we had one woman state senator and today we have four,” said Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage. ”While some might say, ‘well, that’s an increase of 400 percent,’ I would say we barely moved the bar.

“When our population is much more than 10 percent, why do we have only 10 percent of the senators as women?”

Women who are former lawmakers say sexism in the Legislature has prevailed for a long time.

Lana Pollack, current chair of the International Joint Commission, served three terms in the Legislature beginning in 1983. During two of her terms she was the only Democratic woman senator.

“I walked into many rooms for many years where I was the only woman in the room,” Pollack said.

And men noticed. “It was as if I ignored a sign on the door that said ‘men only’ and somehow I missed that signal,” she said.

Sexism came in two forms. The first was when men talked over her and degraded her ideas, ideas that were acceptable for them to talk about.

“The other kind, and there was plenty of that, is just lewdness and that kind of sexuality that is totally inappropriate,” Pollack said. “It’s assaultive verbally or assaultive physically.

“The physical assault, the worst of it, was somebody planting a wet kiss on my mouth as a total gross surprise.”

It wasn’t just Senate colleagues who were sexist, she said.

“It was from other lobbyists, labor leaders, civil servants, Gov. (James) Blanchard’s cabinet,” Pollack said. “I’m not painting a wide brush, but what I’m trying to say is there were a lot of dark lights everywhere, but a lot of bright lights, too.”

It continues today, O’Brien said.

“I can only speak for the state Capitol, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a boys’ locker room,” O’Brien said. “But I grew up with brothers so usually I can defend myself pretty well, but the sexual harassment stuff threw me for a loop.”

Beyond assault and harassment, women legislators say they have to deal with working in a role still viewed as untraditional for a woman by male legislators.

Women were quicker to be gaveled for minor lapses in decorum during her time in the legislature, Dianne Byrum said.

Barb Byrum said she was told she was being a child and needed to be placed in timeout like one of her kids when she spoke out on the floor.

Often the denigration of women legislators is a bipartisan slam at their roles as mothers, O’Brien said.

“The assumption is, if a woman has kids at home, maybe we need to think twice about that,” O’Brien said. “And that’s not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue. That’s just a societal issue where we need to break out of some stereotypes.”

Women lawmakers resent being pigeonholed, and that keeps some from running for election, she said.

“Because apparently women are only supposed to care about education and healthcare and men can care about everything and women can only think one way on certain topics,” O’Brien said. “That actually keeps women from running for office.”

Women lawmakers are often underestimated, even when they hold leadership positions, said Dianne Byrum, the first-ever female Democratic House Leader.

“Women were always underestimated,” she said. “They had to be harder workers but women kind of knew that going in,”

She was often challenged by the previous House leader, Kwame  Kilpatrick, who as mayor of Detroit would show up in Lansing with an entourage and acted like he was still leader, she said.

“It was a constant challenge of authority.”

Pollack said serving is a balancing act. “It’s tough because people depend on you, yet other people are trying to undermine you.”

How could things improve?

It starts with more dialogue and a higher standard of behavior in the Legislature, O’Brien said.

It’s not just fellow legislators she’s talking to but also staff members who have faced sexism.

“I’m trying to do a lot of listening, talking to staff in casual conversations because there is a lot of them who don’t feel comfortable. And so they’re not willing to share information. Is there a depth of a problem? I don’t know.”

More women elected to office would help, Dianne Byrum said. They bring a different perspective and tend to be more collaborative.

Pollack agrees: “I’d like to see more women on the board of directors and more women in the cabinet and more women bosses.

“In both parties.”

Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

Capital News Service

LANSING — Public policy advocates say it’s common sense to raise the age for a person to be tried in Michigan criminal courts as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.

The reason is, young people in adult prisons are at higher risk for sexual assault, restraint, solitary confinement and suicide, they say.

“We are a super-minority in the nation when it comes to the age of criminal responsibility for kids,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, the Kids Count project director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Placing them in juvenile facilities also gives them a better chance to rehabilitate, advocates say.

“In contrast, young people in the juvenile justice system have opportunities for education, rehabilitative programs and interventions that may help them to succeed,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of the Juvenile Law Center, a national public interest law firm.

But county officials are unsure who will pay for the hundreds of 17-year-olds and younger in the adult system who would move to juvenile facilities.

Lowering the age would create a lot of changes to the juvenile justice system, and the counties could be unprepared for those changes, said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for the Michigan Association of Counties.

Currently, the state and the counties are responsible for the upkeep and care of prisons. Counties pay for juvenile facilities.

Bills passed the  House in 2016 to raise the age from 17-years-old to 18-years-old but the Senate is waiting for a cost study commissioned by the Legislature before moving the bills.

The Association of Counties has been worried about the pending bills in the past for monetary reasons. County funding has been down since the 2008 recession, and the state is underfunding county programs, it says.

Furthermore, the  association says the proposed legislation does not require the state to cover additional local costs.

Costs are expected to go up for counties but the actual amount is unknown and will depend on the results of the cost study that was commissioned by the Legislature, Bosworth said.

The cost study is expected to be released within months. The study will look to see if there are savings for treating 17-year-olds as adults.

Since potential costs are unknown, the impact on counties financially is unknown but rural and more northern counties could feel a larger burden, Bosworth said.

The Human Impact Partners, a national public policy research and advocacy group, studied juvenile facilities, adult facilities and community-based programming in Michigan. To house a youth in a juvenile facility costs nearly $179,000 a year while to house a youth in an adult facility it costs just over $40,000 per year.

The counties are worried they won’t be able to adequately fund the transition of prisoners from the adult system to the juvenile system and afford the higher costs of the juvenile system.

Advocates are adamant that the age for adult prisons needs to be raised. Michigan is one of only five states in which the age to be tried as an adult is not 18..

Kids who commit crimes need rehabilitation at a facility equipped to handle their developmental status and recognizes they are not adults, Guevara-Warren said.

“In other parts of our laws, 17-year-olds aren’t old enough to vote, they’re not legally old enough to drop out of school, they’re not old enough to buy fireworks,” Guevara Warren said.

Other reasons to raise the age stem from the more supportive treatment of young people in juvenile systems, which allows them to stay in touch with families and communities.

“It’s designed to help young people with their education and to provide treatment and rehabilitation,” Feierman said. “When the juvenile justice system is really working well, it is an intervention that helps young people. The criminal justice system just isn’t designed to fulfill those goals.”

The battle over raising the age, however, is not about the policy implications but over how to pay for it.

Feierman and Guevara Warren said states are recognizing the age raise is better policy and better financially in the long run.

“Youth prosecuted as adults earn 40 percent less over their lifetime than youth in the juvenile justice system which translates in a loss of state tax revenue and economic productivity,” Guevara Warren said.

State agencies unite to reduce mental illness in jails

Capital News Service

LANSING — Up to 64 percent of county jail inmates in Michigan have some form of mental illness.

And while lawmakers discuss ways to reduce that number, law enforcement officers have put their own solutions to the test.

“Police chiefs are saying, ‘We’re spending tons of time with individuals with severe mental illness in the community and then we’re bringing them to jail,’” said Ross Buitendorp, a board member of the Mental Health Diversion Council.

Jails have become mental health hospitals, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Koops estimates between 45 and 65 percent of county jail inmates receive some form of psychotropic medication for mental illness, and 90 to 95 percent have some type of substance abuse problems.

Jails are not the best places to treat people with mental illness, Buitendorp said, so agencies are working together to identify and treat those who need help.

Law enforcement agencies are tackling the problem by increasing use of a decades-old program called Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, Buitendorp said. The 40-hour class trains officers to better identify people with mental illness, and intervene in a smarter way.

A CIT-trained officer can recognize symptoms that someone who is suicidal, bipolar or schizophrenic might show during times of stress.

“What the officer does is look at the behavior of the person in front of them, and run it against the symptoms they’ve been trained in,” said Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Public Safety Department. “So when they see these things, they can separate the conduct driven by a mental health crisis as opposed to criminal conduct.”

The goal after recognizing those symptoms is slowing things down. Officers have time on their side, Diaz said.

“They’re going to try to open lines of communication using a set of skills called ‘active listening,’” Diaz said.

Active listening is an effort to hear what the person is saying. That can take time because many mentally ill patients have thought-process problems. But a successful attempt can calm the individuals instead of further agitating them.

In addition to keeping people with mental illness out of jail, CIT training also emphasizes diverting patients already behind bars to a mental care facility. Officials without such training are much less likely to move a person with a mental health crisis to an appropriate facility.

While Michigan doesn’t keep track of the reduced number of injuries during these interactions, other cities like Memphis, Tennessee, where CIT training has been in wider use, show the training works, Diaz said.

So Michigan agencies are doing more of it. The Community Mental Health Board of Clinton, Ingham and Eaton Counties reports 95 cases of the method used in the last year. lt expects to have 160 officers trained before 2018.

Buitendorp is also the director of substance abuse at Network180, a community health agency in Kent County that has helped train 80 officers.

“The police departments and the emergency departments are our biggest fans and our biggest partners,” Buitendorp said, “because we all serve the same clients.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan says the increased training is a great first step to addressing larger issues like mass incarceration of undeserving individuals.

“Recognizing that mental health issues are at the base of a lot of these criminal charges is so important,” said Shelli Weisenberg, ACLU’s political director. “Putting the resources for the training, creating those collaborations even though we don’t have resources in place, it’s a fabulous first start.”

The money comes from grants distributed by the federal government and the jail-diversion committee, donations from organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness and increased commitments from police agencies willing to send officers to be trained.

For example, Oakland County has a mental crisis center, called Common Ground, designed for people needing immediate mental help. It’s an important stop for many police officers who need to drop off a mentally ill person, said Jeff Kapuscinski, the director of business development at the agency.

“We think that the programs and services we provide for people in those situations are not only more appropriate for the care they might need at that moment, but it’s also less costly for taxpayers than sending them to jail,” Kapuscinski said.

Kapuscinski says Common Ground is one of only a handful of agencies of its kind in the country. The agency diverted 431 people from jail in 2015, saving Oakland County more than $5 million.

The savings represent progress, Kapuscinski said, but it’s not more than money is necessary. A lack of material resources, like available beds in hospitals, is a serious problem for mentally ill patients.

“Frequently, it’s been our experience that folks experiencing mental health issues or a mental health crisis are lower in terms of the priority of being served in an emergency department,” Kapuscinski said. “That’s when emergency department boarding becomes an issue.”

Both Koops and Kapuscinski agree it’s not uncommon for inmates to wait weeks for an open spot.

“The number-one issue up here is not training, it’s the availability of bed space for mental health patients,” said Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clarmont. “We had a violent offender with mental issues a little while ago who waited three days before we got a bed for him.”

AuSable Valley Community Mental Health, which covers Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties, averages three to four such individuals a year. Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which covers six counties in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula, diverted 30 people people from jail.

Clarmont requires that all of his officers receive training every 24 months, but those training sessions are less in-depth than some that are hosted further south.

“We can train them for the very short term,” he said. “But we are not mental health officials. To be frank, we don’t have the medication or facilities.”

Despite the mountain of barriers many sheriffs and community health officials have begun to climb, other public figures involved in the conversation are on the move. In July, 2017 the MiLegislature created the House C.A.R.E.S. task force made up of 14 lawmakers. The group is charged with addressing the growing issue of mental health, and that includes mental health reform in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve identified through the first meetings of the task force, perhaps we can do a better job of communication when someone enters the corrections area,” said Rep. Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, a member of the task force. “We have to find the best way to care for these folks.”

For Koops, of the Sheriffs’ Association, the pivot toward more help for the mentally ill is a welcome first step toward solving an old problem.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve been doing this for 42 years,” he said. “And this is the first time in 42 years I’ve actually seen some coalitions come together to see this issue and want to work and make it better.”

Past pay should not affect women’s income, Dems say


Capital News Service

LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.

And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.  

As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”

In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent. Continue reading

It’s time to prioritize Michigan roads, transportation chair says


Capital News Service

LANSING — In light of a recent study detailing Michigan’s road needs, some legislators say they’re hoping to see roads become a bigger priority for the state.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said transportation is his main focus, and roads are a major issue.

“The two things that my constituents bring up the most are insurance and roads,” Cole said.

A recent study by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation research group, concluded that Michigan’s roads require more than the increased funding they’re getting, or else they may deteriorate further. Continue reading

Assisted suicide bill introduced — again


Capital News Service

LANSING — Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Cochran recalls, a Michigan resident approached him during a coffee hour to tell him her family was moving to Oregon.

The woman’s father suffers from cancer, and when the time is right, he wants to be able to choose to die painlessly using lethal drugs with the aid of a doctor, Cochran said.

That’s a right the man will have in Oregon that he doesn’t have in Michigan.

“Her story is tragic,” said Cochran, a Mason Democrat. “It’s a topic we need to have discussion on, and it has been around for a long time.” Continue reading

Book reveals history of Detroit’s forgotten streetcars


Capital News Service

LANSING — Detroit once was home to the world’s largest municipally owned streetcar enterprise, an industry with a history stretching from the city’s early founding through the 1950s.

Now a new book, “The Thirty-Year War: The History of Detroit Streetcars, 1892-1922” by Neil Lehto, provides an in-depth look at the origins and development of that public transportation system.

Lehto is an attorney representing Michigan townships and villages in cases involving public utilities, with a focus on telecommunications. Before he was a lawyer, Lehto cut his teeth working for a Royal Oak newspaper while attending Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

The combination of municipal law and journalism fueled his desire to write the book.

“I had the occasion to write an article about the renewal of the Detroit Edison franchise in the city of Berkeley,” said Lehto, who lives there. “And I became curious about public utility franchises and their regulation because it seems to be kind of peculiar.” Continue reading

State Senate: Make February about taking care of you


Capital News Service

LANSING — If taking time for yourself often feels like an impossible task, now you have a reason to be a little more selfish.

A  Senate resolution promoting healthy lifestyle choices was adopted at the end of January. Introduced by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, the resolution recognizes February 2017 as Self Care Month.

The resolution’s sponsors include Sens. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage; John Proos, R-St. Joseph; and Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City.

According to the resolution, self-care is a lifelong commitment to good hygiene practices, monitoring changes in health, knowing when to consult a healthcare practitioner and preventing infection and illness.

While there are many types of self-care, the resolution highlights knowing when it is appropriate to self-treat physical health conditions with over-the-counter medications.

Schuitmaker said Perrigo, an over-the-counter pharmaceutical company in Allegan, asked her to propose Self Care Month.

Continue reading