Michigan Jail Reform Laws Gives Model to Other States

Michigan Jail Reform Laws Gives Model to Other States

Earlier this year, Michigan lawmakers passed, and Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed, a package of jail reform bills. As The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Nick Hagen writes, the “historic slate of changes affect[ed] every aspect of local criminal justice systems.” The bills are the product of recommendations from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.

This bipartisan group of local-level officials established by the governor focused on jail reform across the state. They analyzed data, the state’s laws and existing practices in Michigan. With this information, they came up with recommendations about how to reduce jail populations while maintaining public safety. Lawmakers from both political parties, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, local judges and advocacy groups offered support to the task force while they prepared their recommendations.

Like the U.S. as a whole, these reform bills came at a time when Michigan’s crime rate is going down but its incarceration is going up.

What the tax force aimed to fix was surprising yet predictable. The task force found that Michigan’s jail incarceration rate tripled from 1960 to 2016. That increase is alarming in and of itself. What makes things worse, though, is that it came at a time when crime dropped to a 50-year low. This disparity hit Black communities the hardest. Between 2016 and 2018, for example, Black Michiganders made up only 13% of the state’s population. During that same time period, they also made up 37% of its jail admissions.

To remedy these problems, the reform bills eliminate driver’s license suspensions as a penalty for low-level offenses. They also increased the use of interventions in lieu of arrests. Additionally, the bills reduced the amount of jail time for nonviolent offenses and improved the state’s probation practices.

Now, says Hagen, Michigan’s reform measures can serve as “a model for state-level policy change affecting local jail populations and will protect public safety while helping thousands of people in Michigan avoid arrest and incarceration for low-level offenses.” The hope is that these bills will keep families together and will prove to be a better use of taxpayer money. Every state could certainly benefit from policies that do that.

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