Kids in Crisis: Shortage spurred by ‘Raise the Age’


Oct. 9 – TRAVEL CITY – Every time Grand Traverse Family Court adds a new case, Court Administrator Christine Brendel said she gets a sinking feeling in her gut – especially if juveniles deserve to be in jail.

Two simple questions must be answered immediately, Brendel said: Where are they going? And when?

But in Michigan, especially in the northern Lower Peninsula, the answers to those simple questions are not so simple. This is because there are not enough places to handle the number of children coming into the juvenile justice system.

These young people are sent to mental health facilities or detention centers because they are considered a danger to themselves or their community, she said. The main objective is to rehabilitate them and bring them closer to their community, parents and friends.

It’s not like the adult court system, and last year, there was a big push to keep the adult and juvenile custody systems from merging.

According to Brendel, the juvenile detention bed shortage problem began with Michigan’s passage of the “Raise Up” Act on Oct. 1, 2021.

The law was part of a national movement for all 50 states to raise the age at which a minor can be tried in court for anything in the United States: 18.

In Michigan, before that new law was passed, 17-year-olds were considered adults in the eyes of the court system. That means that before the new law, 17-year-olds could be held in adult prisons and jails.

But when the clock struck midnight on October 1, 2021, the new law went into effect.

Brendel said the system in Michigan wasn’t ready for him.

Suddenly, all the 17-year-olds in adult prisons immediately sought other places, flooding family courts around the state.

“Getting these kids out of jail was like a national terror,” Brendel said. “they [the juvenile detention facilities] There was no place for all the children. It wasn’t really planned.

Brendel recalled that Grand Traverse County had a 17-year-old boy in jail when “raise the age” was implemented. They sent the teenager to be placed on a Taser, a home restraint device.

“But I don’t know what we’re going to do next,” she said. Because there were no beds for our children.

A year later, they are still facing that prison bed shortage.

Brendel’s problems are not unique. All counties in the state are experiencing juvenile placement shortages. However, in rural northern Michigan, the distance between communities and the lack of resources exacerbate the problem.

For Cameron Clark, family court administrator in Leelanu County, the need to find placement for juveniles is just as challenging.

“We call and start calling, and usually it’s no use,” Clark said. “It’s a scary time. One of our jobs is to make sure kids are safe and the community is safe. When you can’t guarantee that, it’s very difficult.

Further complicating the requirement to remove 17-year-olds from adult facilities, the “sight and sound” law prohibits juveniles from being within sight or earshot of adult inmates, in compliance with state and federal law.

In July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed House Bill 4887, which would have allowed juveniles to be taken to detention centers in the same vehicles as adults. She cited the federal “Sight and Sound” law as the main reason she vetoed that law.

After a school security threat by Northwest Education Services last June, in which a male teenager was identified as the prime suspect, Brendel said youths were seen as a threat to others.

He had to be held, she said, but kept away from the sight and sound of adult inmates at the Grand Traverse County Jail until they found a placement option for him. Brendel and the prison captain could not comment on what happened to him because it was clearly a juvenile matter.

Sometimes, Brendel said, children who stay in jail have to be moved out of state to get a proper medical bed. Three juveniles from Grand Traverse County are currently being held out of state — two in Wisconsin and one in Arkansas.

Family Court is charged with helping children get the mental health help they need.

So if children try to harm themselves, there are no youth emergency mental health beds at Munson Medical Center, so they fall under the supervision of her office, Brendel said.

Because Clark has fewer juvenile cases than Brendel, the backlog is not the same.

But both Clark and Brendel are members of the same statewide mailing centers.

Every time a new case file involving a minor comes across their desk, family court administrators, judges, attorneys and family members email that list the same question:

Are there any beds left?

The answer, they usually say, is no.

Listen to an audio recording of this story and others on Interlochen Public Radio.

Read more about the problems in Michigan’s juvenile justice system and what’s being done to address them in next Sunday’s Register-Eagle.

If you have experience with the youth justice system to share, please contact journalist Elizabeth Brewer (ebrewer@record-eagle.comand Michael Livingstone (ed.michael.livingston@interlochen.org).

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