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Incoming juvenile cells in Cheboygan jail highlight youth facility shortage

Cheboygan County Sherriff Department
Michael Livingston
Cheboygan County Sherriff Department

Two juvenile detention cells may be coming to the Cheboygan County Sherriff’s Department – the first in Michigan to share the same building as a county jail.

Cheboygan County Sherriff Dale Clermont said the project is a grant-funded effort between his department and Cheboygan Probate/Family Court that may address two issues.

The first is a long-standing shortage of juvenile detention facilities in northern Michigan. The other is an expected increase in detainments after a state law went into effect earlier this year that changed the legal age of a juvenile from 17 to 18.

Law enforcement agencies in Northern Michigan often transport detained juveniles out-of-state - sometimes just for one night before they appear in court.

“The last juvenile we had that we had to incarcerate in a juvenile facility, we had to take to Ohio. That's how far we're traveling with juvenile detentions right now,” Clarmont said. “That’s why we decided to think outside the box.”

There are two state-operated juvenile justice facilities in Michigan and twenty-one private facilities, primarily for longer-term treatment and removal from the community.

Clarmont said it can cost between $300 and $400 per day to house a juvenile out-of-state on top of costs for transportation – which is all funded through taxpayers’ dollars.

He said Cheboygan does not have higher juvenile detention rates compared to other counties in the region, but he expects that number could increase.

In 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed 18 bills as part of the "Raise the Age" legislative package, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, to raise the age of who is considered an adult under the criminal justice system from 17 to 18 years old.

Before that, Michigan was one out of four states that treated 17-year-old offenders as adults.

The law went into effect in October. Shortly after, Clarmont and Cheboygan County Probate Court Judge Daryl Vizina began looking at possible solutions now that 17-year-olds will require juvenile detention in certain scenarios.

Jason Smith is the director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice – an advocate for the “Raise the Age” movement. He said he’s concerned about officials using the new law to push for juvenile cells in adult facilities.

“I'm concerned about the precedent this sets,” Smith said. “I understand the concerns around placements and the lack of beds but no matter what you do to protect a young person in an adult facility – they are still in an adult facility. Being with young peers is something juvenile facilities provide those adult facilities do not.”

In January, the probate court applied for the “Raise the Age Grant” through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) which is meant to “fund collaborative, community-based delinquency prevention efforts.”

Vizina said the grant awarded $200,000 this year and potentially $200,000 to $300,000 next year. He said the project could be entirely funded through the grant.

But first, the county must clear some long-standing legal hurdles.

It’s state law that a juvenile should not be detained in a police station, lockup, jail, or prison.

The MDHHS Juvenile Justice Field Services Manual states putting a child in detention or other secure facilities causes more harm than good. MDHHS staff does not recommend the use of detention for any youth adjudicated of a status offense or for a status offender that has violated a valid court order.

Vizina said most juveniles that go through the court system are not detained in a facility. Court-ordered juvenile detention is mainly used if there is a danger to public safety or there if there are repeated probation violations.

“We're a court of rehabilitation,” Vizina said. “We don't place kids in jail or prison just because. The goal here is ultimately to rehabilitate kids and get them on the right track.”

Even if the situation requires a juvenile to be placed in a detention facility, they must be out of “sight and sound” of any adult inmates.

(NOTE: A court may order a youth 15 years or older to be placed in jail or another detention facility for adults, separated from adults by both sight and sound. The court must determine that the youth is a menace to other delinquent youth or may not otherwise be safely detained.)

The Cheboygan Sherriff’s Department and the Probate Court must ensure the sound and sight laws will be followed to build the cells.

Clarmont said an area of the jail called the sally port could be modified to comply. It’s a garage space where patrol cars come in, oftentimes transporting alleged drunk drivers for overnight lodging.

A storage space adjacent to the sally port would be renovated with its own access hallway, entrance, and ventilation system. Youth and adult inmates would still have to share the jail’s sunroom and library but never at the same time, Clarmont said.

The Sherriff’s department received approval for the project from the Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Agency June 13.

Probate Court Director of Juvenile Services Kyle Culbertson said the next step is to hire contractors and engineers to blueprint the cells. He said the project won’t be completed until the end of 2023.

Clarmont said, if completed, the cells would be available for surrounding jurisdictions to use as well.

Meanwhile, Smith and MCYJ remain in favor of alternatives to reduce juvenile confinement altogether such as expanding community mental health services, electronic monitoring or specialized foster care.

“Most kids ultimately return home anyway,” Smith said. “How many of them could have just stayed home in the first place with additional supervision or support services?”

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.