Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist have formed the bipartisan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform.
The first of its kind task force in Michigan will analyze the state’s juvenile justice system while recommending strategies with data, research, and fundamental constitutional principles.
“Michigan is a national leader in criminal justice reform, and today we continue towards implementing real changes that will help young Michiganders when they are exposed to our criminal justice system," Whitmer said. “We believe that we must reduce people’s contact with the system in the first place, but when they do come into contact, we must especially treat our youngest Michiganders with dignity, humanity, and respect. One mistake early on in a child’s life should not destroy their opportunities for a positive future.”
County and state leaders will work in partnership as part of the task force, as well as other leaders involved in the juvenile justice system. Whitmer’s office said the task force will develop an innovative and thorough analysis of Michigan’s juvenile system, complete with recommendations for changes in state law, policy, and appropriations to improve youth outcomes. Gilchrist will serve as the chair of the task force.
"When I first took office, I made it clear that I would focus on building and delivering fundamental reforms to make our communities safer and improve people's outcomes who come into contact with our criminal justice system," Gilchrist said. "This Task Force will examine a system that is not working. Michigan still detains youth at one of the highest rates in the nation and is nearly unparalleled in our practice of detaining youth for non-criminal behavior. Today we begin a new process to change this system in a way that will position these young Michiganders for success."
"This task force will become an integral part of bettering our state's juvenile justice system and I'm proud to support a proactive approach to necessary reforms," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. "Just last month, I led a coalition of attorneys general in asking the federal government to address how disparities in school discipline negatively impact students from marginalized communities who are more likely to enter the criminal justice system as a result. It is imperative to have an all-hands-on-deck approach to systemic issues - nationally and locally - and I firmly believe this task force is another avenue that provides an opportunity to enact positive change for Michigan's youth."
Judge Lisa McCormick, with the 30th Circuit Court, joined Whitmer to address why the changes need to happen now.
"So every child in every community who enters the juvenile justice system will have every opportunity to be successful," McCormick said.
McCormick said they want to expand and address community-based treatment, intervention and prevention programs in the courts for at-risk youth.
Whitmer said data from the task force from local and state law enforcement agencies will help to gain a better understanding of the scope of the issues in the juvenile justice system.
"We need to start focusing on uplifting our young Michiganders and treat them with dignity and respect. And first and foremost, recognize that they're children. We cannot allow an early mistake to define the rest of a child's life, especially if it's a non-violent offense," Whitmer said.
In October 2020, Whitmer signed bipartisan House Bills 4980-4985 and 5120 to reform Michigan’s criminal expungement laws, making it easier for people who have committed certain felonies and misdemeanors to have their record expunged.
The state’s first expungement fair was held in Flint, with more than 1,000 residents registering for the event to clear their criminal records. More expungement fairs are planned for later this year.