Debate continues over whether 17 is an adult or a juvenile

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
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

By JACK NISSEN
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

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

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

By LAURA BOHANNON

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

By CHAO YAN

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

By IAN WENDROW

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

By CAITLIN TAYLOR

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.

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Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prison reform advocates worry that the lack of policies for solitary confinement in Michigan prisons has exacerbated violence and mental health problems among inmates.

Michigan has no age or time limits for putting inmates in administrative segregation,  commonly known as solitary confinement. And while almost half the states ban solitary confinement for juveniles, Michigan does not.

“We need to have some sort of blanket reform here,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This is a big fight, but it has to happen.”

Some prisons have tried to reduce the use of solitary, said Staley. But that patchwork change is slow and that makes it ineffective. Continue reading

Michigan prepares for Syrian refugees

By ROHITHA EDARA
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan nonprofit organizations are preparing for an influx of Syrian refugees after the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would stop them from entering the country.

“We are expecting a new wave of refugees, especially that of Syrians,” said Ken Fouty, community outreach coordinator at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan based in Detroit. “We anticipate that it will happen in the summer.”

About 100 Syrian refugees were resettled by his organization in 2015. It is prepared to take about 300 more in response to the refugee crisis in Syria, he said.
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Bill would repeal abortion insurance restriction

By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service

LANSING — A controversial Michigan abortion law could be repealed if a Democrat-led measure succeeds in the state Senate.

The Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act of 2013 requires women and employers to purchase an additional insurance rider — an add-on to their current plan — to be covered for abortions.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., the East Lansing Democrat who introduced the legislation earlier this year, said the law is an unfair burden on women.
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