Capital News Service

Staffing crisis at juvenile justice facilities: low retention rates, overcrowding


The juvenile justice system across Michigan is experiencing a staffing crisis, and the facilities are feeling the effects. 

High employee turnover, accompanied by too few job applicants, contributes to a national staffing crisis, according to the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia. 

But why? 

 Marcía Hopkins, the director of youth advocacy at the Juvenile Law Center, links problems within juvenile justice centers to trouble recruiting staff. 

“It’s hard to recruit for some of these places because, nationally, we’re also seeing much more outcry to remove kids from environments where they’re experiencing sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and overall deprivation of services and isolation,” Hopkins said. 

It’s “harder for people to want to or apply to work in those settings,” Hopkins said.

In addition to lack of staff, juvenile justice centers face the challenge of overcrowding and too few beds for detained youths, said a staff attorney at the center, Malik Pickett.

Pickett said one solution would be to reduce the number of youths housed in such facilities. 

“There are a lot of youths being sent to the system and placed in detention that really don’t need to be there, and they could be better served in their communities,” he said.

“If there are less youth sent to these facilities, then there wouldn’t be worries of staffing shortages because there wouldn’t be overcrowding. Then they can be served more effectively within their communities,” he said. 

The president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan, Marianne Huff, said children with mental health problems are being placed in juvenile justice facilities, contributing to overcrowding. 

“Children with more significant mental health conditions should not be forced into the juvenile justice system to get the treatment that they need. And that is what is happening,” she said.

She said there are situations where the only way young people, children and adolescents can get specialized residential psychiatric care “that would really help them” is through the juvenile justice system.

“And that’s sad.”

According to a job posting by Wayne County for a part-time juvenile detention specialist, required duties include: routine security checks, resident counts, room checks, monitoring security footage, monitoring mental health crises and behavior, distributing and supervising meals and monitoring residents’ health and hygiene. 

The position requires at least an associate degree or 60 college credit hours. The posting didn’t specify the pay rate.

Pickett said that programs that offer services such as mentorship to youths within the system provide an opportunity to stay in their community without contributing to overcrowding at the facilities. 

“There are a lot of diversionary programs that allow youths to receive services within their community where they can have access to things like mentorship and different types of programming instead of going to these residential facilities where they’re experiencing extreme harm and abuse,” he said. “So there’s a much more effective kind of programming that can be done within their communities.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer established the Michigan Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform to implement data-driven improvements to facilities across the state. 

Bob Wheaton, a public information officer at the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the department is working to identify solutions to staffing problems. 

“Like so many employers right now, the department’s facilities and the facilities that we license and contract with are not immune to the staffing shortages we’ve seen across the nation, but we are working quickly to get these facilities back to full staff levels,” Wheaton said.

“THe department has been meeting with providers, the Legislature and other stakeholders to identify solutions. Through these discussions, it has become clear that provider capacity has been constrained due to pandemic-related costs and workforce shortages,” Wheaton said.

He said the department has taken actions to increase the number of beds at the facilities.


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