ACLU Applauds Michigan Juvenile Justice System Bill Package, Adds Still More Work to Be Done 

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By Audrey Sawyer

LANSING, MI – A 19-bill package in the state of Michigan that tackles reforming the juvenile justice system is being applauded by the Michigan ACLU, although the group expressed disappointment a crucial piece did not pass that would have helped juveniles to obtain legal counsel.

The expansion of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission Act (which would result in juveniles not only having constitutionally required legal representation when charged in a criminal case, but also having effective counsel assistance) did not pass.

Loren Khogali, the executive director of Michigan ACLU, said of the legislation: “We applaud the legislature for passing the much needed package of bills, which are a crucial step forward in transforming Michigan’s juvenile justice system for the better.”

But, on House Bill 4630, Khogali said, “The ACLU of Michigan has long fought in the courts and in the legislature to ensure the constitutional guarantee that all people facing charges in a case will have counsel to provide zealous representation.

“Through the MIDC, the state has accomplished significant reforms of the adult indigent defense system. Children who become entangled in the legal system ought to have at minimum the same protections as adults.”

Khogali said passing this piece of legislation will be the main focus for next year when the legislature returns.

Measures that did pass included a bill requiring the use of a screening tool for risk and a mental health screening tool to help decision making when referring to diversion. Another bill seeks to establish the Office of the Child Advocate to have oversight of residential facilities providing judicial services.

Other measures OK’d include legislation to eliminate the majority of fines and fees for juveniles (fees which significantly burden families with debt created as a result of the current system), and a bill to increase the reimbursement rate for community based services (detention screening, hiring local quality assurance specialists).

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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