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Dr. Benjamins, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, speaks on juvenile justice reform for the American Academy of Pediatrics


Dr. Laura Benjamins, Wayne Pediatrics adolescent health practitioner, was interviewed by the American Academy of Pediatricians on juvenile justice reform. Read below:

Last year, Laura J. Benjamins, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, was appointed to the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The committee is tasked with providing advice to the governor on juvenile justice issues.

“Every state is mandated to have a similar committee to oversee different regulations that states are required to institute with juvenile justice,” Dr. Benjamins said. “One of the things the Michigan committee really made an effort towards in the past year is to start tracking racial and ethnic disparities a little more closely.”

The 2020 AAP policy statement Advocacy and Collaborative Health Care for Justice-Involved Youth notes that racial bias is seen at all decision points within the system, including arrest, referral to court, diversion, detention, petition, adjudication, probation, secure confinement and transfer to criminal court. Female and LGBTQ youths experience more risk factors within the system.

A Michigan native, Dr. Benjamins moved to Houston for residency at Baylor College of Medicine, then completed her adolescent medicine and primary care fellowships at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. While in Texas, she served as medical director for the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, where she helped to create medical protocols for multiple facilities and provided direct patient care.

“One thing we really tried hard to do in Houston while they were with us is getting them caught up on vaccines and addressing any other longstanding health issues and coordinating follow-up appointments,” she said.

Now back in Michigan, Dr. Benjamins said she will continue working toward a more equitable juvenile justice system.

“We need to keep in mind the trauma that so many of these youth have experienced and to look at ways to support them,” she said. “We need to really rethink how we’ve been doing things for the past several decades. It’s not a model that works or one I think is beneficial to anybody in the long run.”

Among reforms she believes are necessary are more prevention and supportive services for youths who enter the system.

“To help prevent recidivism, I think we’re looking at medical care and also psychological support, but also integrated medical care and community involvement, maybe through mentorships,” Dr. Benjamins said. “Having a model that is more supportive and less punitive is really important. For whatever reason, when they break the law, there’s often so much behind it and there’s so much more of a background story behind the incident that we really need to look at.”

Read the whole article here.