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Number of juvenile delinquents in Michigan institutions drop

Keeping youth in communities helps more.

Keeping youth in communities helps more.

By Matthew Hall
Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of juvenile delinquents committed to Michigan detention centers dropped 41 percent from 1997 to 2011, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit policy research group in Washington, D.C. The trend mirrors a comparable drop nationally in the same period, said Ryan King, a research director with Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project. The reasons vary.

“The real answer is it’s a state-by-state story,” King said. “… (T)he national drop seems to be a combination of state policy changes, a historic drop in juvenile arrests and, to a lesser extent, demographic changes.”

Policies keeping juveniles in their communities — instead of detention centers — are the top reasons why Ohio, Texas and Connecticut had the biggest drops, he said.

Similar reasons are likely behind the change in Michigan, experts say. “This is a very positive trend,” said Michelle Weemhoff, the associate director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, a public policy advocacy group. “About a decade ago, Michigan had a very serious problem,” she said. “We had hundreds and hundreds of kids going into our state facilities, which were bursting at the seams.

Weemhoff said much of the research on juvenile offenders shows keeping them in communities and out of institutions saves money and lowers the chance they will commit another crime.

Francisco Villarruel, a professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, agreed. “When we displace kids from their homes and put them in facilities with other offenders, we may actually be educating them to be criminals,” he said. “At a community-based program, you may be required to show up to a reporting center where there might be tutors.” Those centers focus on reconnecting juveniles to the community, he said.

Similar programs in Illinois and Pennsylvania have shown such centers help create support networks encouraging low-level offenders to stay out of crime, Villarruel said.

According to WeemhoffWayne County took the lead in Michigan’s trend reversal in 2000. The number of adolescents at the state’s W.J. Maxey Boys Training School in Whitmore Lake has been reduced from more than 700 to five.

“Things like probation, electronic monitoring, family therapy, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment (are) done in the community,” said Weemhoff. “By addressing some very basic family needs, kids were able to stay home and receive the services they need at a much lower cost,” she said. Placement in detention centers costs about $250 to $300 a day or more, Weemhoff said. A community-based program can cost about $10 to $50 daily.

The trend is promising but there’s still a lot of work to be done, experts said. If only 20 percent of the 2,000 young people now institutionalized in Michigan were shifted into the community it could save $44 million the first year, Weemhoff said.“We should develop a range of services in the community, not only as a preventive measure, but also to help kids coming back from placement.”


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