A building reads ‘Washtenaw County Courthouse’ next to the entrance.
File Photo/Daily.  Buy this photo.

The Washtenaw Justice Project, a new nonprofit attempting to improve the juvenile and adult criminal legal system in Washtenaw County, announced in a press release Thursday it will be partnering with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office and Public Defender’s Office to establish a new restitution program for juveniles.

In the state of Michigan, juveniles involved in delinquency offenses are required to pay restitution, a court-ordered payment to compensate the victim for any losses that resulted from the crime. However, financial barriers to paying restitution often negatively impact juveniles under the justice system, as an unpaid restitution will prevent a juvenile’s case from being closed regardless of whether they have reached the end of their probation period. 

The new juvenile restitution program would decrease the likelihood of unpaid restitutions by giving juvenile offenders the opportunity to earn money when they follow the terms of their probation. The program would allow juveniles to earn up to $1,000 in restitution, which would be paid to crime victims through the court. Funding for the program will initially come from the Song Foundation, the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan and the Skillman Foundation

In the press release, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit said he believes this program would benefit both the juveniles in the justice system and the crime victims. 

“This new program is a win-win-win,” Savit said. “It incentivizes young people to get back on the right track. It avoids unnecessarily tethering kids to the justice system for lack of financial resources. And it ensures that crime victims who are owed restitution will be compensated quickly and efficiently.” 

Delphia Simpson, Washtenaw County’s Public Defender, also contributed to the press release. Simpson said she believes the program will provide young people and their families with an opportunity to move past earlier mistakes and help resolve the consequent financial burdens. 

“Children and teens’ brains haven’t developed to appreciate all the potential options and consequences of their behavior — especially not when it comes to money,” Simpson said. “The juvenile restitution program will help children and their families with the tremendous debt that can come from poor judgment and youth.”

In the press release, Victoria Burton-Harris, president of the Washtenaw Justice Project and Washtenaw County’s chief assistant prosecutor, expressed her appreciation for the community support the organization has received for the program. 

“We are working collaboratively with our community to ensure our kids are not handicapped by poverty, and those they harm are able to recover their losses,” Burton-Harris said. “I am grateful to our funding partners. It speaks volumes to have local organizations support this initiative that assists both crime victims and young people who’ve harmed them.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at tinapyyu@umich.edu.