Bipartisan lawmakers introduce youth indigent defense bills

By: - May 30, 2023 4:21 am

Rep. Sarah Lightner | House GOP photo

A bipartisan group of Michigan House members have introduced a 20-bill package to add more oversight, resources and opportunities for juveniles to proceed through the justice system, regardless of their financial standing.

The bills, which stem from recommendations from the Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform established in 2021 by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, were introduced on May 23.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), who served on the task force and is sponsoring two of the major bills in the package, told the Advance on Friday that many of the proposed changes under the bills bring parity and representation for juveniles who can’t pay for their own legal defense that already exist for adult defendants.

There’s times to be tough on crime and times to recognize that the state benefits when a young person, who might not have had emotional or mental maturity, made a mistake and rehabilitative services are needed rather than incarceration, Lightner said.

“Part of this is rehab and diversion and alternate sentences and options and flexibility because we don’t want to put these kids on the path to prison,” Lightner said. “We want to keep them out of prison. We want to make sure they’re productive members of society.” 

Here are the bills in the package:

HB 4624 and HB 4625Would increase the reimbursement rate for county expenditures under the child  care fund to 75%. The legislation would also place requirements on implementing juvenile justice standards such as requiring risk screening tools for courts to make decisions in diverting youth from court or placing them in consent calendar proceedings.

HB 4626: Would limit the time period a minor can be held in a treatment program per a diversion agreement to a maximum of three months, unless the law enforcement official or court intake worker finds that more time is necessary in order for the minor to complete a specific program.

HB 4627: Would require that before a court comes to a final decision on a juvenile’s case, a risk and needs assessment be performed to inform decision making.

HB 4628: Would require risk and mental health screenings to determine eligibility for informal consent calendar proceedings where juveniles are given a plan of services and actions to be completed.

HB 4629: Would require courts to use a detention screening tool before a juvenile is remanded to a secure facility in order to inform that decision.

HB 4630: Would add language to identify juveniles as possible indigent defendants.  Would require at least one individual with “substantial” knowledge of the juvenile justice system to be appointed to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. This commission consists of members appointed by the governor to implement minimum standards to ensure those who can’t obtain qualified legal representation without significant financial hardship have pathways to gain representation.

HB 4631: Would expand the Michigan Appellate Defender Office to oversee services for juveniles.

HB 4632: Would allow the state health department to adjust the juvenile justice residential per diem rates as needed as long as it still remains within the appropriations from the state’s budget.

HB 4633: Would add criteria in the consideration of trying juveniles as adults to include looking at the juvenile’s emotional and mental health, as well as their response to treatment services.

HB 4634, HB 4635, HB 4636 and HB 4637: Would, among other fines and costs for juveniles, eliminate the court’s ability to charge for the cost of consent calendar services.

HB 4638, HB 4639, HB 4640, HB 4641, HB 4642, and HB 4643: Would create the “Office of the Child Advocate Act” , changing the Children’s Ombudsman Office into the Office of the Child Advocate. The legislation would amend the office’s responsibility for overseeing complaints about the child welfare system to include juvenile justice facilities.  


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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.