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Michigan Moms Step Up to Fight for Locked-Up Youth

Some Michigan families are banding together to advocate for juvenile justice reform. (Citizens for Prison Reform)
Some Michigan families are banding together to advocate for juvenile justice reform. (Citizens for Prison Reform)
May 12, 2016

LANSING, Mich. - Hundreds of Michigan mothers, along with other family members, feel the daily pain of having a child locked behind bars. A new report called "Mothers at the Gate" by the Institute for Policy Studies, details the effort by family members to challenge the conditions in which their loved ones are held, as well as mass incarceration itself.

Lois DeMott, co-founder, Citizens for Prison Reform was among those featured. Her 15-year-old son was sent to prison and she said there were no support groups to help her once he was locked up. So she started Citizens for Prison Reform in Michigan. DeMott believes parents and community members need to pool resources so they can help each other.

"There is so much stigma having a loved one inside of the system and so many families go through this experience alone, walled-off, without knowing where or how to find the supports," she said.

The report calls for juvenile justice reform, including raising the age juveniles can be transferred to adult prison, ending solitary confinement, improving conditions in youth prisons, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, and ultimately ending the imprisonment of children.

The report's co-author Karen Dolan, director of the Criminalization of Poverty Project for the Institute for Policy Studies, said things that used to be called childish or disruptive are now criminalized.

"Children that have been in a fight, or that have been disruptive in school, or that in some cases have merely watched fights," she said. "All of these behaviors now are becoming so criminalized, especially in areas that are high poverty and that tend to be black and Latino."

DeMott adds that with a lack of meaningful programming and rehabilitation for youth prisoners, she's fighting not just for her son, but for every child.

"I saw there was a real lack of accountability," she added. "I had no clue how many we hold in solitary confinement and how many of those individuals have impairments and have mental illness."

An estimated 54,000 kids are incarcerated in the U.S., including about 2,000 in Michigan.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI