Detroit Documenters network acts as watchdog on Wayne County juvenile jail challenges

Detroit Free Press reporters Christine MacDonald and Gina Kaufman discuss their findings on the conditions of the facility.

Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility

The Wayne County Detention Facility has been facing complaints of overcrowding and children being left in their rooms for long periods of time.

Detroit Free Press investigative reporters Christine MacDonald and Gina Kaufman have been covering the juvenile jail for the past year to document what the state and county are doing to address the concerns.

“We’ve interviewed kids who described being in their room without leaving for weeks,” says MacDonald.

Kaufman reports some children were not receiving their psychotropic medications.

“Through the process, we learned that the state had actually given the facility some what they call ‘variances,’ essentially allowing them to bend rules on staffing and lockdowns,” says Kaufman.

Other issues included staff getting hurt, children not being given daily showers, and missing out on educational opportunities.

MacDonald believes it’s important for people to know what’s happening at the facilities.

“It was really important to focus and tell people about how this system was just supposed to be rehabilitative, [but] it’s not working for, or how it’s portrayed, that it should be working,” she says.

Earlier this year, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans declared a health emergency over the conditions in the facility. The mandate allowed the county to allocate funds to hire more staff and transfer kids into other facilities. The emergency order was lifted in June.

MacDonald and Kaufman are continuing to monitor the developments with support from the Detroit Documenters, a program that trains people to take notes and give real-time updates via social media at public meetings. Documenters are attending hearings to support this project.

MacDonald says this collaboration allows them to be watchdogs when it comes to the juvenile jail.

“We do not have access to…juvenile court records anymore. But what we do still have access is we can attend those hearings, we can get transcripts of court hearings” MacDonald shares.


  • Nargis Rahman
    Nargis Hakim Rahman is the Civic Reporter at 101.9 WDET. Rahman graduated from Wayne State University, where she was a part of the Journalism Institute of Media Diversity.