The Macomb County Circuit Court has ordered an end to fees related to the incarceration of minors and their families in its juvenile justice system. The court has also urged the state Legislature to change the way the fees are assessed statewide.
Jason Smith is the Executive Director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice. Smith says the pandemic has had an effect on the state’s juvenile justice system. He spoke with WDET’s Tia Graham.
Listen: How juvenile court fines affect families of color.
Jason Smith: And so we heard stories from families, majority families of color, who lost their employment during the pandemic, another huge negative impact and why it made, especially now, imposing juvenile court fines and fees on them so hard. Being then their unemployment checks garnished, young people who felt like this tremendous amount of guilt not only for what the offense that they may have committed, but that they have placed this financial burden on their families. Parents talking about having to balance making these payments or making the decision to make payments to the court versus providing other necessities for their household budget or being able to pay for extracurricular activities for the court involved youths or their siblings … it was the ultimate goal of reducing a family’s future court involvement.
Tia Graham, WDET: So right now in the state, the criminal justice system, as well as the youth criminal justice system, and are seeing reforms from both sides. So what has support looked like from both the Democrats and the Republicans when we’re talking about criminal reform in the state?
Over recent years, criminal justice reform, and juvenile justice reform as well, has been one of the few areas where you see a lot of bipartisan work happening in the Legislature and at the state level to make reforms happen. We saw that with Raise the Age with the adult and youth Clean Slate legislation that was signed into law earlier this year that improved record confidentiality protections, and the recent jail Task Force, all of those things were bipartisan efforts. And this is no different. This will be a task force that’s chaired by the lieutenant governor but will have bipartisan representation from the legislature. But then also, the thing that I’m really excited about is that it’ll be a collaborative effort between the state and local leaders, the juvenile courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, youth that were involved with the justice system and their parents. Everyone will be at the table to discuss and address long-standing issues in the juvenile justice system.
After announcing the task force that will help reform the Michigan youth justice system, what’s next?
So building off of the reform in Macomb County, where they made the decision to stop assessing and collecting juvenile court fines and fees, and eliminate all of the existing debt, there were five bills introduced in the State House that would mirror those changes in Macomb County, so looking at eliminating the assessment and collection for young people who are placed in out of home placement or probation costs or other court-ordered services. And again, understanding that most of these costs are significant and really unaffordable for a lot of families. And that if our goal is to truly be a rehabilitative system, you cannot be charging youth and families for their court involvement. And this is another example of bipartisanship. It is a Republican-led bill package. There’s three Republicans, two Democrats on the bill package, and it follows other states around the country that have made this this policy change as well. So we’re really excited. We’re hoping that the legislation is taken up sooner than later and in the House Judiciary Committee where it’s been referred.