Youth justice: Report suggests anti-COVID-19 methods could also work in the future


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 was successful in many cases and could be a model of how to go forward after the virus recedes, according to a report released last week.

The report, “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 study, done by the Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ) and Wayne State University’s School of Social Work Center for Behavioral Health and Justice, showed that early in the pandemic, some courts and detention centers employed multiple strategies to protect youths under their supervision:

? 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.

? 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.

? Monroe County’s 38th Circuit Court Family Division halted new admissions to limit the spread.

Using survey responses from 13 juvenile courts and detention centers across the state, the report also highlighted measures facilities took to keep youth safe, such as increased sanitation, halting in-person visits, social distancing, treatment and education and family visits 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.

The MCYJ is a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more fair and effective justice system for the state’s youths. For more information, go to


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