State Rep. Sarah Lightner today introduced a plan to ensure Michigan youth who end up in the juvenile justice system have access to proper legal representation, even when they cannot afford it.
Lightner, who served on the Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform, said the measures she introduced today are part of a 20-bill, bipartisan package she is working on to address most of the recommendations released by the task force last year.
The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, which was created to improve legal representation for indigent criminal defendants, does not currently have the authority to address issues involving juvenile defendants. The same problem applies to the State Appellate Defender Office, which provides representation to indigent individuals appealing their felony convictions. Lightner’s legislation would extend the authority of both entities to include juveniles.
“Right now, the fines and legal fees that rack up when a young person gets involved with the legal system almost always fall back on their families, many of whom simply cannot afford it,” Lightner said. “We have two well-established programs in place that do great work for adults. We can produce better outcomes for kids in the system by expanding them to juveniles.”
House Bill 4630 will expand the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission to include development, oversight, and compliance with youth defense standards in local county defense systems. House Bill 4631 will expand the State Appellate Defender Office to include appellate services for juveniles.
“Juvenile brains are very different from adult brains, so there are different ways to approach problems with kids to produce better results,” Lightner said. “I’m taking that into account and working hard to make sure the lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and others involved with the juvenile justice system are trained and equipped with best practices to help troubled kids.”
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