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Michigan’s continuing efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice system were recently given a boost with a $825,000 federal grant.

According to a press release from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the new funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will be used to implement the department’s Building Local Continuums of Care to Support Youth Success project. The project assists state and local governments in providing a range of prevention and intervention services for youth who are either involved or at risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement that local communities are best served by improving the juvenile justice system whenever possible.

Young people who experience incarceration are more likely to commit crimes upon their release, according to a report by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. It also states that confinement in youth facilities can damage a child’s health and harm their chances of attaining education or employment.

The report goes on to say that children who are involved in alternative, community-based programs have better outcomes. These alternative programs cost less to operate than a youth correctional facility, too.

Over the past few years, the state has partnered with advocacy groups to work on ways to lower youth incarceration rates, but it still faces many challenges in areas such as program funding.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established a juvenile justice reform task force in 2021 and, using data collection and interviews with community leaders and formerly incarcerated individuals, the task force approved recommendations to improve the juvenile justice system in July 2022.

The recommendations helped shape a set of new laws that, among other things, increased reimbursement rates from 50% to 75% for community services that support young people and lowered costs for families of juvenile defendants by eliminating extra court fees.

A juvenile justice reform division was created in the Department of Health and Human Services in 2023. The division has worked with out-of-state providers to implement treatment options for youth and hosted discussions in local communities to continue reform efforts.

Using the federal dollars, the MDHHS project plans to create a planning council to find alternatives to incarceration, strategies to support youth and families, and ways to save money and reinvest in juvenile justice reform.

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