Detroit Free Press, June 12, 2008: More Mich. kids land in poverty, prison, survey finds

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More Michigan children are living in poverty, and more of the state’s kids are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes than most other states.

That news is part of today’s KIDS COUNT report, an annual state-by-state survey of the well-being of children ages 10 to 15 measuring things such as poverty, education, birth rates, death rates and pregnancies. There was good news too, though. Fewer teens are dying, and fewer are having babies than the national average.

Michigan again placed 27th nationwide for its overall treatment of children.

Among the most alarming trends: Michigan continues to incarcerate kids at a much higher rate than the national average and often for nonviolent crimes.

There are 137 children per 100,000 in some sort of state facility or detention in Michigan, compared with the national average of 125 per 100,000. That puts Michigan 33rd in that category.

“This is very expensive, not effective and it’s dangerous,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, a senior research associate with the Michigan League for Human Services and director of the state’s KIDS COUNT project. Children housed in detention centers often do not get necessary services, such as mental health care, and end up back in the system.

Michigan’s dismal economy is having a dramatic effect on kids as well. About 18% of the state’s children are now poor, an increase of 29% in recent years. Poverty is defined as two parents and two children with an annual income of $20,000. Michigan ranks 30th in that category.

But among the good news, Michigan’s teen death rate was 57 deaths per 100,000 among kids aged 15 to 19.

Zehnder-Merrell attributes that to graduated driver’s license programs that require teenagers to drive under supervision for several months before obtaining their license, and an increase in the use of seat belts.

And there has been a 20% decline in teens giving birth.

“It’s a combination of factors. Certainly there has been an emphasis on safe sex, and there are also a lot of local efforts to help young people make better decisions, so some are delaying becoming sexually active.”

Zehnder-Merrell said that despite those improvements, the overall numbers should alarm all Michigan citizens.

“These kids are the workers, the next generation, and if we don’t give them opportunities, they won’t be functional adults,” she said.

Contact L.L. BRASIER at 248-858-2262 or

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