CBHJ and Michigan Center for Youth Justice issue report on COVID-19 response in Michigan's Juvenile Justice system

graphic of youth in detention center concerned about COVID-19 next to youth at home learning on the computer supported by mother

Steps taken to limit the spread of COVID-19 in juvenile detention centers and residential facilities by reducing the number of youths in confinement statewide were successful in many cases and could be a model of how to go forward after the virus recedes, according to a report released Thursday.

Michigan Center for Youth Justice logoIn collaboration with the Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ), the Wayne State University School of Social Work Center for Behavioral Health and Justice (CBHJ) surveyed juvenile court and facility staff to better understand the measures taken by juvenile justice professionals, the governor, and the Michigan Supreme Court in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The report, titled "COVID-19 in the Michigan Youth Justice System: Crisis Response and Opportunity”, credits Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Supreme Court and local juvenile court and facility staff with enacting measures such as reducing admissions and selective early release. The report provides a point-in-time “snapshot” description of  the multiple strategies employed by juvenile courts and detention centers early in the pandemic  to protect youth under their supervision, including:

  • Monroe County’s 38th Circuit Court Family Division halted new admissions to limit the spread.
  • Berrien County’s Trial Court, Family Division, reduced its population by 50 percent by using risk assessments, treatment progress, and re-entry plans and also utilized teleconference meetings to identify youths who tested negative for COVID-19 and were within 90 days of release.
  • Ottawa County’s 20th Circuit Court Family Division released young people that were detained for probation or law violations.
  • Ottawa and Berrien County detention centers moved family visits to an online video format.

In addition to efforts made to reduce the confined youth population, the report highlights the measures taken by facilities to keep youth who remain safe, such as increased sanitation, halting in-person visits, social distancing and continuing treatment and education and family engagement through remote technology.

“Although borne out of necessity due to a public health crisis, these quickly implemented reforms raise important questions about how to continue best practices in the future,” said Mary King, executive director of MCYJ. “If we are able to safely defer a large proportion of youth from detention due to COVID-19, might we be able to defer larger numbers of youth from detention in the future?”

The report recommends that family courts and detention facilities continue many of the new approaches after the pandemic, including reducing admissions and length of stay, utilizing technology to communicate with youth, families and the courts, and establishing a reentry plan for youth. Read the full report to learn more.



About the Michigan Center for Youth Justice: The Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ) is a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more fair and effective justice system for the state’s youths. Learn more

About the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice: The Wayne State University School of Social Work Center for Behavioral Health and Justice (CBHJ) envisions communities in which research, data, and best practices are used by multiple stakeholders to enhance the optimal well-being of individuals with mental illness and/or substance use disorders who come into contact with the criminal/legal system. Learn more

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