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Oakland County judge weighs in on how juveniles are being punished for making school threats

In a written exchange, Chief Judge Shalina D. Kumar (Oakland County Circuit Court) answered questions about how juveniles are being punished after being convicted of crimes related to school threats.

Schools across Metro Detroit have dealt with an increase in school threats since the Parkland, Florida mass shooting event. While many students have been charged with crimes related to the threats, some walk away without serving time in any detention center. (We asked for your input on our Facebook page here). 

Here's the full written exchange between me and Chief Judge Kumar:

Questions:

I would like to know why no Judge in this district has convicted a juvenile or sentenced jail time or detainment post adjudication.  My understanding is all juvenile cases the prosecutor brought to the courts on  school threats (etc.) have been plead down or given probation.  

  • What are the sentencing guidelines?  
  • Why are judges not opting for maximum or even mid-line punishments.  
  • What is the court’s view on school threats in terms of severity, cost to society and view of being a community menace? 
  • Are the penalties likely to get more severe as more of these cases get to the bench? 
  • Are most of these cases adjudicated by a bench trial or jury?
  •  Which judges have had any of these cases in the last two years?  
  • Is the Chief Judge aware that no juvenile has gotten jail time for such threats in the last two years?  
  • What are her thoughts on this?

Chief Judge Shalina D. Kumar, Oakland County Circuit Court answers:

Dear Ms. Tutman,
Your questions mainly speak to the issue of “jail time” and “hefty fines” for juveniles accused of and adjudicated for making school threats.  Neither of these dispositional remedies is available to the court pursuant to Michigan law.  These terms relate to adult offenders and not juvenile offenders.  Family court judges and referees are not permitted to place a juvenile offender who is charged in a juvenile petition in the Oakland County Jail or a Michigan Department of Corrections facility.  

Our “disposition” (as opposed to “sentencing”) options for juveniles are governed by MCL 712.18.  While this law does allow the court to fine juveniles in an amount commensurate with the adult fine for a particular crime, the fines are in no way mandatory and, in my experience, infrequently used as the burden of paying the fine typically falls on the juvenile’s parents.  The Oakland County juvenile court approaches juvenile dispositions on a case-by-case basis.  

The court crafts dispositions not based on mandatory minimums (there are none for juveniles) or sentencing guidelines (there are none for juveniles), but on the specific needs and concerns related to the particular child.  The juvenile court system, unlike the adult penal system, focuses on rehabilitation of the juvenile offender, while at the same time taking into account the need for victim restoration and community protection.  

In crafting a recommendation for the judge or referee, the Oakland County Youth and Family Caseworker delves deep into the juvenile’s school, home, community, and mental health backgrounds.  The caseworker conducts in-depth interviews with the juvenile and his or her mother and father.  The caseworker runs background checks and collects school and mental health records after speaking with teachers, administrators, and therapists, and may also interview law enforcement involved in the case.  If the caseworker believes that out-of-home placement might be merited, the caseworker meets with a group of court and community professionals called the “out-of-home screening committee.”  

All information gathered is brought before this multi-disciplinary team and a joint recommendation is made to the hearing officer.  Out-of-home placements include our own specialized treatment options at Children’s Village, the private facility with which the court has a contract called “Crossroads for Youth,” and various placements around the state through Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  If the court adopts a recommendation for MDHHS placement, the child is made a “Public Act 150” ward and state juvenile justice workers step in to coordinate the juvenile’s dispositional care.
In-home placement options include probation or intensive probation dispositions.  

The court also utilizes a “day student” program at Crossroads for Youth for juveniles requiring specialized education services but not requiring out-of-home placement. You should be aware that many juveniles charged with making school threats are detained temporarily in Children’s Village while awaiting trial. The court takes the threats very seriously and caseworkers get involved with these, and all, juvenile cases the moment the plea is taken.  

In summary, I am certain this court’s judges and referees have handled these types of matter appropriately under the law.  I hope this information is helpful to you.

Additional follow-up question:

Clarification...while I did say "jail" perhaps the phrase, Juvenile detention may be more accurate. Why no additional detention and why no intensive probation after conviction?

Answer from Judge Kumar:

Thank you for your inquiry.  I believe my response below encompasses your additional question.  However, we utilize both of those options if appropriate under the law.   We also take into account recommendations for the same by the prosecuting attorney, defense attorney and caseworker.


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