Michigan advocates recently scored significant victories on school discipline and other issues related to youth justice. These victories were due, in part, to the hard work of Rodd Monts, field director for the ACLU of Michigan and alum of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute (see our 2016 interview with him here), and our organizational member, the Michigan Council on Crime & Delinquency (MCCD).
Bills signed by Michigan Governor Snyder during the last few weeks of 2016 included the following major policy changes:
- erasure of the antiquated zero-tolerance policy in schools;
- limited use of seclusion and restraint in schools;
- decriminalization of youthful behavior for those charged with a minor in possession; and
- support and decriminalization of human trafficking victims charged with prostitution.
“These victories are the result of many years of work by a lot of committed advocates, and represent important policy changes for youth caught up in the justice system,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of MCCD. “We have more to do to create a system that is truly fair and treats young people in an age-appropriate manner, but this set of reforms marks an important milestone on the road to that goal.”
School Justice Finally Became a Priority
After decades of pushing thousands of students out of school for minor infractions each year, Michigan’s antiquated zero tolerance policy of suspension and expulsion has been effectively dismantled. According to the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan (which worked tirelessly on this reform for years) the major changes include:
- an end to mandatory expulsions for all infractions (except possession of a gun), giving districts discretion to keep students in school;
- school districts are now required to consider lesser interventions before suspending and expelling;
- suspension and expulsions over 10 days are prohibited unless a district can demonstrate it has considered things such as lesser interventions, age, disciplinary history, disability, whether safety was threatened, etc.; and
- expulsions are now defined as any removal of 60 days or more.
"We do this work because, just like educators, we want to improve outcomes for young people," said Monts. "The passage of this legislation is significant in that it addresses excessive and disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. And it also provides educators a framework for handling incidents of misconduct appropriately, so that students are not sent home just because that is the only option.”
The bills (HB 5618, HB 5619, HB 5620, HB 5621, HB 5693, HB 5694 and HB 5695) would also require schools to use restorative practices in certain situations, which means practices that emphasize repairing the harm to the victim and the school community caused by the pupil's misconduct. The bills – now known as Public Acts 360 – 366 of 2016 -- will take effect right in time for the first day of school in the fall – Aug. 1, 2017.
Students will also be further protected in the classroom, due to a long-overdue set of bills limiting the use of seclusion and restraint techniques in schools (HB 5409 through HB 5417). Spearheaded by Lt. Governor Brian Calley, these changes will now ban the harmful and outdated practices of tying-down, pinning down, and locking up children in closets or confined spaces when they are disruptive in the classroom. The bills mostly institutionalize the Michigan Dept. of Education’s 2006 policy that already encourages positive behavioral intervention strategies and proper training on restraint techniques for emergency-only scenarios across the state. Now, all school districts must follow the same statewide policy from the Michigan Department of Education, offer training to staff on correct techniques, and must report any use of restraint or seclusion to the state.
Second Chances Were Given and Youthful Behaviors Were Decriminalized
Minors in Possession. Sen. Rick Jones (R) set out this year to forgive a common, yet criminal, adolescent mistake: underage drinking. The Minor in Possession bills (now PA 357 and PA 358 of 2016) reduce the penalty for alcohol violations for all young people under 21 from a misdemeanor down to a civil infraction. This effectively provides a second chance for young people to avoid the long-lasting consequences of a criminal record. The full changes will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
Youth Charged with Prostitution. Youth under 18-years-old and prosecuted with prostitution-related offenses are now presumed to be victims rather than criminals. As part of the statewide efforts to reduce human trafficking (Michigan ranks 2nd highest in the country), Public Acts 336 to 338 of 2016 will now allow the setting aside of a conviction of prostitution if it is shown to be due to human trafficking. Moving forward, youth charged with the same types of offenses will be assumed to be victims of human trafficking unless proven otherwise. The laws take effect March 14, 2017.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We are indebted to Kristen Staley of the Michigan Council on Crime & Delinquency, who wrote the article which formed the basis of this piece, for allowing us to adapt it for this publication.