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juvenile justice

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

The state of Michigan is offering grants to local governments to help reduce racial disparities in their juvenile justice systems.

To qualify, one thing local governments and court systems will have to do is acknowledge there’s a problem.

“First of all, they’ve got to demonstrate that they have racial and ethnic disparities, that they exist in their jurisdiction,” says Lynn Sutfin, with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “And then they need to propose activities that they think will address those disparities.”

Photo inside a prison.
Unsplash

Hundreds of young men in Michigan say they were sexually assaulted while serving time in adult prisons when they were still teenagers. The state's Department of Corrections, they allege in a class action lawsuit, failed to provide them with adequate protection. 

Last month, the Michigan Supreme Court cleared the legal path for these men to sue the state of Michigan for damages.

Michigan Capitol Building
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A package of bills aimed at raising the age Michigan residents can be tried as adults passed out of a House committee Wednesday.

Under current Michigan law, 17-year-olds are automatically tried as adults. The bill package would raise that age to 18 years of age.

Representative Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) spearheaded the legislation. He says a similar bill package failed to pass the Senate two years ago because it didn’t include a funding mechanism. He says this package does.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

State representatives exchanged angry remarks in a House committee meeting Tuesday over a series of amendments to a bill package that would raise the age Michigan residents can legally be tried as adults.

The bills would change Michigan law so that 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults.

Representative Joseph Graves (R-Argentine Township) put forward the amendments, saying he doesn’t think 17-year-olds should be put into the juvenile justice system alongside 12-year-olds.

Graves said results have been “mixed” in other states that raised the age.

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Governor Rick Snyder has suggested Michigan should restructure the state’s juvenile justice system. However, little has been done.

Paul Elam, president of Public Policy Associates and an advocate for juvenile justice, recently wrote an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine, which indicated the youth in the juvenile justice system don’t have the luxury of time.

RANDOM HOUSE, PENGUIN RANDON HOUSE LLC, NEW YORK

A decision to join Teach for America brought then 22-year-old Michelle Kuo to the Mississippi Delta. Her hope was to teach American history through black literature. It was a very different life than the one she'd had growing up as the daughter of parents who’d emigrated from Taiwan to West Michigan. 

The mosaic workshop at the Washtenaw County Youth Center
Juan Javier Pesdacor

There are more than 1,600 juveniles now living in state facilities in Michigan.

Most young people in residential treatment or detention centers are people of color. Many often become defined by their experience, both legally and socially.

A new documentary film Determined 2 Make It tells their stories and shows how art, music, photography and more can be powerful forms of self-expression for incarcerated youth.

(Left to right) William Washington, Lizzie Young and Vincent Washington.
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Wayne County has more than 150 juvenile lifers, by far the most in the state. As of today, only one of them – and, in fact, the only person among the more than 360 juvenile lifers in the entire state of Michigan – has been given that second chance. 

On June 4, 1975, 17-year-old William Washington and his 26-year-old co-defendant, Kenneth Rucker, robbed a record store. After a scuffle with the store owner, Mr. Rucker took the victim into the back room and shot him to death. This incident led to Washington receiving a life without parole sentence for first degree murder, as well as a second life sentence for armed robbery, for his role as an aider and abettor.

On November 17th of this year – 41 years after he went to prison – William Washington became a free man.  

Washington and his mother Lizzie Young joined us in the studio.

documents
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Michigan has 363 prisoners who have been sentenced to mandatory life without parole, the second most in the nation. Early in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that all of these prisoners must have their sentences reconsidered.

Currently, only a fraction of these cases have been reevaluated and resentenced.

The process of resentencing these juvenile offenders requires much more than a simple file review and hearing. Many documents have to be organized and processed in order for attorneys and judges to properly evaluate each case.

Public domain

More than 360 Michigan inmates have been dealt a setback.

The prisoners were all sentenced to automatic life without parole as teenagers. The U.S. Supreme Court says that's unconstitutional.

So local prosecutors were set to re-sentence those Michigan inmates. 

Attorneys for those prisoners objected. They worried local prosecutors would routinely seek life without parole during re-sentencing, and argued the Supreme Court decision should prevent that.

But Judge John Corbett O'Meara disagreed.

Prison bars
powelli / Creative Commons http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The state House has cleared a set of bills that would change how young offenders are prosecuted and incarcerated in Michigan.

Right now, Michigan is among a handful of states that automatically prosecute 17-year-old offenders as adults.

Legislation passed this week would end that practice, and prohibit placing people under 18 years old in adult prisons and jails. 

State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit, spearheaded the bipartisan effort.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Tomorrow, a state House committee will consider changes to the juvenile justice system in Michigan.

The House Criminal Justice committee is scheduled to discuss the 20-bill package starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Among other things, the package of bills would bar housing youth offenders with adult convicts and raise the age of mandatory adult sentences.