Making Juvenile Justice more Just for All Michigan Youth, Especially the Most Marginalized

When you hear the words Juvenile Justice, what comes into your mind? Is it a youth in the courtroom or is it a child in the classroom? Is it removing a child from the classroom when they break the rules or is it doing a deep dive and finding out what they need to succeed? Over the last few months I have been a part of the Michigan Juvenile Justice Task Force and these types of questions are what need to be at the forefront of minds in this discussion. And that thought process is what led to the creation of this task force. Currently the state of Michigan’s due process protections are weak and are often able to be ignored. This lack of protection allows for the disproportionate suspensions, expulsions, and detentions of disadvantaged youth (according to Michigan’s Student Discipline Data), and this is not justice.

Michigan currently lacks statewide policies and guidelines to ensure detention is used only for youth that are a public safety or flight risk. This is a major factor in the disproportionate detention rates between black and white youth. From 2016-2020, Black youth were detained at a rate six times more often than white youth (according to data from 8 county courts). This discrepancy alone tells us that we need to take a hard look at the Juvenile Justice system and find places where change can be made in the short- and long-term. A lack of guidelines not only allows for higher rates of detention for black children, but also creates longer stays. Right now Michigan does not have a statutory time limit for detention, and when we upon analysis of eight county courts in Michigan, we find that black youth are spending an average of seven more days in detention. This is not justice. We must demand and support systemic change to improve outcomes for marginalized and all youth.

The Michigan Juvenile Justice Task Force, chaired by Stephanie Shaw, a project manager in corrections and re-entry with the Justice Center, Council of State Governments, initiated four listening sessions in March with participants from organizations, youth, and parents from around the state. These participants have all been impacted by the Juvenile Justice System in some way, have valuable input to share, and want to see improvements. Our intention as the task force is to use their voices and stories to better inform recommendations as we push for equitable policy. We already have discovered several opportunities to reduce the disparities and limit detentions as a whole and we look forward to sharing our final recommendations to make Michigan a more equitable state for all of our youth.

Stephen Wallace is the Regional Engagement and Mobilization Associate for Michigan’s Children. Contact him at