For local government, the last few years have been full of tough decisions.
With significant tax shortfalls, lack of jobs, people leaving the area and cuts to revenue sharing, we have meticulously planned our budgets to squeeze every last penny to get the maximum benefits for our communities.
Juvenile justice is one area where wise budget decisions have led to improved public safety and allowed more dollars to be directed to other needed areas.
For years, Michigan took a “get tough” approach to delinquency, sending thousands of kids away to juvenile facilities, often for minor offenses. Not only was this approach expensive — upward of $75,000/year per kid — but it did little to repair problems that were waiting back at home or school.
Within a few months of returning to their families, many of these youth ended up re-offending and sent back to placement. Because the counties and the state split these costs at 50 percent, local communities were paying drastically for this ineffective revolving door of the juvenile justice system.
Fortunately, the past decade has seen a major shift to “get smart” on crime by intervening earlier and serving kids in the community. Counties recognize the best way to treat delinquency is to 1) zero in on the child’s needs, 2) provide services locally, and 3) involve the whole family in treatment.
Community-based programs cost a fraction of out-of-home placements, ranging from $10 to $50 a day, and result in dramatically lower re-offending rates. In the long run, we’ll save even more by avoiding the financial and societal costs associated with going to prison.
The real challenge is finding the initial funds to start community-based programs, especially for rural counties with smaller budgets. Without local programs, many of these areas have had to rely on expensive juvenile facilities as their only option to treat youth in trouble with the law.
This is why I was so pleased to learn of Michigan’s new In-Home Community Care grants. Established by the Legislature in 2013, these grants are helping rural counties launch new treatment programs, mentoring options and family therapies that kids can attend while still living at home.
And, because counties will track the progress of these kids as they complete the community-based program, within a year’s time it will be easy to show cost savings from preventing out-of-home placement.
Larger counties could benefit from this type of investment, as well. Many counties have programs that are working well but need additional resources to serve more kids. What we don’t want to see are counties being forced to scale back or cut effective programs in order to balance their budgets. Unfortunately, this is already happening in some areas around the state.
Michigan has come a long way in reforming the juvenile justice system. Expanding the In-Home Community Care Grant in next year’s state budget will help keep this positive momentum going.
It’s the right thing to do for kids. It’s the right thing to do for public safety. And, of great importance to me as a Michigan taxpayer, it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Lawrence "Larry" Emig, of Reed City, is vice chair of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners. He also works for the Michigan Department of Human Services in Osceola County as the Strong Family/Safe Children coordinator, for the Mecosta/Osceola Continuum of Care as the continuum of care coordinator, and for the Osceola County Community Foundation as director of community relations.