Michigan works to pass new laws surrounding juvenile justice system

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Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township.

Michigan Senate

Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake Township.

Capital News Service 

LANSING – When Michigan raised the minimum age of adult offenders from 17 to 18, it promised to reimburse 100% of the counties’ cost of justice services for 17-year-olds. 

That aid is provided until fiscal year 2025, which begins Oct. 1, 2024. 

“Currently there are two separate reimbursement rates from the state to counties,” said Samantha Gibson, a governmental affairs associate at the Michigan Association of Counties. “There is 100% reimbursement for 17-year-olds and 50% reimbursement for kids under the age of 17.”

The Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force provided recommendations to the Legislature, and the outcome was the Juvenile Justice Reform package. Nineteen of the 20 bills in the package went to the governor to sign, according to Gibson.

The bipartisan task force was created in 2021 in the Department of Health and Human Services to analyze the juvenile justice system and recommend changes.

The main bill awaiting signature, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Sylvia Santana of Detroit, sets two reimbursement rates that apply to all juveniles.

The previous law separated rates based on age: 17 year olds and everyone under 17. The pending bill would remove the age limits, providing the same rate for all juveniles. 

The co-sponsors are Sens. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Rosemary Bayer of West Bloomfield, Paul Wonjo of Warren, Sue Shink of Northfield Township and Erika Geiss of Taylor. 

Jeff Getting, the president of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and Kalamazoo County’s prosecutor, reacted favorably to the changes. 

“Overall, I think the bill is going to have a positive impact on juvenile justice in communities throughout the state,” Getting said. “The increased reimbursement rates for services provided to at-risk youths who are being kept within communities will help us to provide better rehabilitative services.”

Under the new bill, the rate for residential services, such as a juvenile detention center, would be 50%, meaning the state would pay for half of the costs and the county would cover the other half. 

The second rate is 75% for community-based services provided while the juvenile is in the justice system, such as mental health and rehabilitation services. 

It passed the Senate 31-6 and the House 90-19.

One of those voting against it was Sen. Jim Runestad of White Lake Township, the top Republican on the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

“I’ve learned through research and talking to prosecutors, law enforcement and other county officials that there is a crying need for so many kids who simply need the structure, security and oversight that is provided by detention facilities,” Runestad said. 

“The issue is that this bill will now pour more money into community service programs, which will lead to counties and courts diverting more and more juveniles into these programs, not because they’re better, but because they’re cheaper,” he said.

Jason Smith, the executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice in Ann Arbor, explained why the bill would be a game changer for the justice system. 

“This funding encourages counties to create better community-based services and alternatives to an overreliance on confinement,” Smith said. “It makes it easier to help young people early on instead of formal court involvement and increases funding for programs that help young people stay home, rather than in detention.”

This bill is awaiting the governor’s signature and would go into effect next Oct. 1.

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