LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A state task force released a full report on Friday, revealing a lack of structure and oversight in the juvenile justice system. The report also includes recommendations for reform that criminal justice experts and activists hope will lead to lasting change.
“Our country has really moved along the lines of ‘if you do wrong, you just get punished’. We have to get away from that thought process across the board. Period. Especially with juveniles,” said Michael Lynn Jr.
Lynn is with the non-profit, The Village Lansing. The group has been tackling youth violence since 2019. A young offender himself, Lynn said he’s cautiously optimistic about the 32 recommended changes to the state’s juvenile justice system.
The final report from a State of Michigan task force revealed inequity in punishments and racial disparities in case results. It also provided changes spanning six sectors of the justice system, from court procedures to enhancing data collection to track reform progress.
Lynn said the call for creating standards for youth defense would equal the playing field.
“I was appointed a court-appointed attorney who just looking for a plea bargain, wasn’t really looking to help me in any way, shape or form. And that happens across the judicial system but a lot of these young people don’t go to trial. They end up plea bargaining out, either they don’t know their rights, they don’t think they can win or they don’t have no support at home to figure it out,” he said.
The report calls for expanding the use of the child care fund to give courts more opportunities to access diversion resources for non-violent offenders. Michigan State University Professor Joseph Kozakiewicz said this offers kids suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues another path.
“That should be targeted and locking kids away does not get to the root of the problem,” he said.
Kozakiewicz said while the broader question of the root causes of youth violence still remains, the report can lead to more lasting rehabilitation.
“I think these reforms, specifically as they address what we can do when law enforcement comes in contact with youth, I think these are still in the right direction,” he said.
Before these recommendations can go into action, lawmakers and task force members will need to draft and pass legislation through the state capitol.