Youth Fellows Visit The Capitol
By: Jennifer Peacock, Policy Director at Michigan Center for Youth Justice
On Tuesday, May 23, the Michigan Center for Youth Justice partnered with the Walker Institute at Western Michigan University to provide support to the second cohort of Juvenile Justice Fellows in Lansing, Michigan. This year-long program is designed to empower youth and families who have direct or indirect involvement in the juvenile justice system by equipping them with the necessary tools to become advocates. As a culmination of their fellowship experience, these young changemakers had the opportunity to spend the day in the State Capitol.
The fellows began their day by meeting with Representative Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo). Rep. Rogers initiated the meeting by expressing her passion for hearing from the youth, acknowledging that they are the future. She then granted the young leaders the opportunity to discuss their priorities. The fellows identified two significant concerns regarding the juvenile justice system: fines, fees, and diversion. One fellow emphasized, "Juvenile court debt is a nationwide reform priority, as local jurisdictions recognize the unequal application, fiscal ineffectiveness, and the exacerbation of poverty for youth and families due to assessments and collections." Rep. Rogers actively engaged with the fellows, encouraging deeper discussion and presenting opportunities for them to become involved at the local level. The fellows expressed their gratitude for her time and for providing opportunities to get involved locally in Kalamazoo.
Following the initial meeting, the fellows had the opportunity to explore the Capitol building and attend a Senate legislative session. Recognizing the value of professional development, MCYJ and our partners at WMU arranged for the cohort to have a private conversation with two distinguished professionals from Lansing: Lindsay Huddleston II from Michigan's Children and Marcela Westrate from the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. During the discussion, Lindsay and Marcela shared insights from their professional journeys and the lessons they had learned. Lindsay reassured the cohort, affirming their presence by stating, "You belong in this space." When asked about advice for younger individuals, Marcela encouraged youth to seek opportunities and explore new avenues actively. MCYJ sincerely thanks Lindsay and Marcela for generously engaging with the Juvenile Justice Fellows and sharing their valuable time and expertise.
The cohort's day continued with a meeting with Senator McCann (D-Kalamazoo). Senator McCann expressed the value of hearing directly from young people. The fellows openly shared their personal experiences within the juvenile justice system, highlighting the positive impact of diversionary programs on the lives of those closest to them. One fellow expressed, "These programs serve as an alternative to the traditional court process for youth who have committed nonviolent offenses. They address underlying factors such as substance use, mental health challenges, and family conflicts while holding kids accountable." In response, Sen. McCann acknowledged their advocacy efforts and expressed his sincere appreciation, recognizing how their anecdotes added significant depth and authenticity to their priorities. MCYJ thanks Sen. McCann for dedicating time to listen and engage with the cohort actively.
To conclude their day, the fellows were allowed to participate in interviews, where they shared their experiences in the fellowship and their perspectives on the juvenile justice system. Although their time in Lansing lasted only one day, their work extends beyond as the Walker Institute and MCYJ will continue to offer ongoing advocacy opportunities. We thank our partners at WMU for their invaluable support in bringing this fellowship to fruition.