We don't know how many kids are in the juvenile justice system | Opinion, Detroit Free Press
Missing data is missing people. Absent complete and accurate data, policies to improve the lives of Michiganders may not reach those who are not counted. The issues with data access, consistency, integrity, and transparency span across issue areas, but of particular concern is the prevalence of these data problems in Michigan’s adult and youth criminal justice systems. A new report released Friday by Wayne State University, Overview of the Criminal Legal System in Michigan: Adults and Youth, illuminates the data challenges Michigan faces to improve public safety and community well-being.
As noted in the report, Michigan’s data problems impact thousands of young people, adults, and families that touch the justice system. For example, the total number of young people in the youth justice system is unknown because of data limitations at the county and state levels.
Measuring recidivism — broadly defined as the re-arrest, reconviction, or reincarceration of a person after being adjudicated for a crime — is another challenge, particularly for adults: it requires following unique people across 83 counties, 57 circuit courts, numerous district courts, and multiple agency and information systems.
Michigan also lacks integration capabilities that would allow for comprehensive assessment of the criminal justice systems performance and outcomes, hindering the process to create a complete picture of all the people impacted by the justice system.
There are more than 81 jails in Michigan using a variety of information management systems with little ability to link county-levels jails together or integrate with other state systems. Further, the 25 locally owned and operated youth detention centers in the state have no ties to state-level systems and their data is not shared or integrated. It becomes impossible to assess the number of youths served, how long they are in detention, their outcomes, and if young people are returning into the system.
Community members, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers have surfaced these issues in the past, and there is now momentum to improve data accuracy and integrity at the local and state level. Earlier this year, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of the Michigan Supreme Court penned an opinion piece calling for improvements to the court data system, and also pointed to efforts like the data analysis project conducted by the Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw as a sign that greater data transparency is needed.
In addition, the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jails and Pretrial Incarceration, an advisory body established by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to improve jail and pretrial systems, recommended the standardization of criminal justice data and reporting in their final report.
One notable recommendation of the Task Force was that “a new or existing body should be directed to identify standards for collecting data and design a detailed plan for improving data collection and reporting.”
Problems like the ones discussed above present an opportunity to create solutions.
That’s why we are convening a group of thought leaders and justice system stakeholders to engage in long-term planning for enhancing the reliability, transparency, and integration of criminal legal data at the local and state level.
This effort, supported by the Michigan Justice Fund and led by the Lieutenant Governor, will launch in September, and include Wayne State University, the State Court Administrators Office, the Michigan Association of Counties and state and county stakeholders across the criminal justice system. Through this process, a blueprint will be produced for prioritizing actions and resources.
As we consider policies to improve public safety, strengthen our communities, and restore the dignity and humanity of people impacted by the justice system, we must first have the data to understand the scope of these issues. It is our hope that that collaborative efforts between government, practitioners, researchers, and philanthropy can help enhance data-driven decision-making toward effective policy for our state.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II is the 64th Lieutenant Governor of Michigan serving in the role since 2019 and is chair of the forthcoming Criminal Justice Data Convening.
Sheryl Kubiak Ph.D. is Dean and Professor at the Wayne State University School of Social Work and co-author of Overview of the Criminal Legal System in Michigan: Adults and Youth.
Melanca Clark is President & CEO of the Hudson-Webber Foundation and Steering Committee Chair of the Michigan Justice Fund, a funders collaborative of regional, state, and national philanthropic organizations that seeks to advance effective justice policy and practice in Michigan.