YPSILANTI, Mich. – A coalition of Washtenaw County criminal-justice actors—the 22nd Circuit Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, and the Public Defender’s Office— announced, in partnership with Ypsilanti’s Corner Health Center, that they have secured a $750,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice to implement a diversion program for justice-involved parents and primary caregivers ages 12-25, Jan. 11.
The Specialized Alternative to Sentencing Support (SASS) partnership is geared towards disrupting the cycle of criminalization for young parents and caregivers, and providing young caregivers the resources they need to succeed. The grant was awarded by the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and was formally approved by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners at its December 7 meeting.
“This grant promises to help families thrive,” said Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit. “Too frequently, we see young caregivers in our criminal system who lack access to substance use or mental health treatment, basic medical care, or employment and educational opportunities. This partnership with Corner Health will allow qualifying young families to get the help that they need—and avoid further involvement with the criminal system.”
For over 40 years, the Corner Health Center has provided high-quality primary care, maternal and infant health care, mental and behavioral health care, gender affirming health care and wellness, and preventive medicine to youth and young adults.
“Clinical care affects only 20% of an individual’s overall health and wellness,’ said The Corner’s Executive Director, Alex Plum. “We need models of whole-person care that address social and emotional needs, especially for young caregivers. It is a privilege to be trusted by young people, and The Corner is grateful to bring health equity into this justice partnership with the County.”
Under the SASS program announced today, young caregivers who are not deemed to pose a safety risk to the public or their families will be given the opportunity to participate in a program administered by Corner Health as an alternative to moving forward with criminal charges. Program participants will be expected to complete an individualized program plan—which might include substance-use treatment or behavioral-health treatment such as therapy or other psychiatric services.
As appropriate, program participants will also be enrolled in mentorship, education, or workforce-development programs. Plans will also include medical clinic services—including establishing a primary care provider for both participants and their children, and connection to obstetrician-gynecologic care for pregnant participants.
Individualized programs will last between 6-12 months. If SASS program participants successfully complete the program—and do not engage in any further criminal activity—charges against the participant will be dismissed, allowing participants to move forward with a clean criminal record.
“Young people experiencing the added pressure of caring for others will receive personal care and life skills assistance, rather than convictions,” said Chief Judge Carol Kuhnke of the 22nd Circuit Court. “This first-of-its-kind program is a win-win-win for Washtenaw County.”
The partnership is expected to serve nearly 180 participants over the next three years. Enrollment in the diversion program will be granted by a judge at the request of defense counsel and the Prosecutor’s Office. Though a wide variety of cases will be eligible for the program, cases that indicate a risk to public safety (e.g., homicide, sexual assault, armed robbery) or to families or children (e.g. stalking, intimate-partner violence, child abuse) will be ineligible.
“Many of our clients worry that other family members might follow in their footsteps and become involved in the criminal legal system,” said Washtenaw County Public Defender Delphia Simpson. “The SASS program directly addresses that concern and will have a long-lasting positive impact on the individual as well as future generations.”
Washtenaw County received one of three awards nationwide issued by the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Other awards were made to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, Georgia, and Sunrise Health Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada.