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Michigan House, Senate committees begin work on juvenile justice overhaul

Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) at the state Legislature
Rick Pluta
Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) chairs the Michigan Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. She’s part of a joint House and Senate panel developing new standards for dealing with juveniles who are convicted of committing crimes.

A pair of House and Senate committees held their first joint hearing Tuesday at the state Capitol on a sweeping package of bills to overhaul Michigan’s juvenile justice system.

Lawmakers are working off recommendations made by a task force named by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2021.

Democratic Senator Stephanie Chang chairs the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. She said one goal is to identify low-risk, non-violent offenders for a track that keeps them out of juvenile detention facilities.

“So that we know that every person who enters the juvenile justice system is receiving effective services that will put them on the road to success,” she told Michigan Public Radio.

The committees face a lot of challenges and complexities to fulfill their mission.

Representative Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) is the minority vice chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He said the question is where to draw the line to balance public safety and rehabilitating young offenders.

“How do we properly assess those individuals so we’re not sending everybody to residential which is the really hard stuff,” he said, “And where we can divert some who need to be diverted, who maybe have trauma or come from low-income neighborhoods, and so that’s what we’re weighing.”

The group is also looking at how to best reimburse local governments for their juvenile justice costs and to create a system that does not use county jails to house children who need mental health services.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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