Bipartisan sponsors introduce legislation to enact jail reforms

Senate bipartisan bills represent legislation acting on the recommendations of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration

LANSING, Mich. — Six members of the Michigan Senate on Wednesday introduced legislation that would expand officers’ discretion to issue a citation for low-level offenses, increase the use of alternatives to jail for low-level crimes, and incentivize compliance with probation conditions.

Sens. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Township; Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit; and Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville; introduced the six-bill package.

The task force was tasked with addressing Michigan’s jail population, which has tripled in just 35 years. Its report was released in January and found that county jails are high-traffic institutions, affecting hundreds of thousands more Michiganders each year than state prisons.

Michigan’s jail growth was driven equally by incarceration of pretrial defendants and those serving a sentence post-conviction. While taxpayers spend nearly half a billion dollars annually on jails, alternatives to jail are under-utilized across the state, and Michigan law provides little to no guidance on when alternatives should be the preferred or presumed intervention.

The Senate package addresses decision points in the justice system that contribute to jail admissions and length of stay, from arrest through sentencing and probation supervision. They expand officer discretion to issue appearance tickets as an alternative to arrest, reduce the use of arrest warrants to enforce payment of debts, create presumptions against jail sentences for individuals who pose no danger to the community, and establish evidence-based incentives and sanctions for those on community supervision.

Additional bills introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives reduce driver’s license suspensions for violations unrelated to dangerous driving, eliminate mandatory minimum jail sentences, and decriminalize a variety of low-level traffic offenses — policy changes also recommended by the Jails Task Force.

“The problems with our justice system are not limited to one corner of Michigan. They’re statewide and require legislative solutions,” said Santana. “I’m incredibly proud of our work on the Jails Task Force and heartened to join this bipartisan group of bill sponsors.”

“The Jails Task Force has opened up a closed world with data,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “They’ve given lawmakers the information we need to retool a justice system that sets too many people up for failure rather than success.”

“Fixing our broken criminal justice system is a top priority for the Michigan House,” said Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, R-Levering. “Each year, hundreds of thousands of people sit inside of a jail, often when they pose no danger to the public. We can create more just and effective laws while ensuring public safety, and this reform puts us on that path.”

“Far too many people are landing in our jails with serious mental illnesses,” said Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. “We’ve got to do a better job of keeping people out who should never be arrested and training officers in jails to recognize mental illness when they see it.”

“A trip to jail is very disruptive to people and their families and it’s expensive to the taxpayers, yet we still arrest people regularly for warrants on petty offenses,” said Irwin. “This bipartisan legislation will keep more people who don’t need to be in jail, out of the system.”

“Growing jail populations are not just a problem in Michigan’s biggest cities,” said McBroom. “We’ve seen the most significant jail growth in rural parts of the state, where there are fewer resources for addiction and mental health. This bill package helps us build a justice system that works for all of us.”

“We can build safe and healthy communities by ensuring people, especially younger adults, who have made a mistake have a chance to make things better and thrive,” said Chang. “Sending people to jail isn’t always the best option. I am proud to be part of this bill package that improves our justice system in a smart way, holds people accountable, and makes good fiscal sense.”

“The best way out of a life of crime is a job,” said MacDonald. “If we structure probation in a way that sets people up to succeed instead of feeding people back into jail, we can jumpstart the economy and reduce reoffending.”

“We need to expand the number of crimes for which an officer can give someone a citation instead of making a custodial arrest,” said Victory. “There are hundreds of misdemeanors now that officers have no choice but to arrest for, when a citation would improve the overall process for both the police and the defendants.”

“Many of these policy changes have already been piloted successfully in my county,” said Kalamazoo Sheriff Richard Fuller. “When we create more opportunities for nonviolent offenders to stay out of jail, we find they’re often better able to get their lives back on track.”

The policy recommendations of the Jails Task Force were informed by more than a dozen stakeholder roundtables, testimony from hundreds of people across the state, 10 years of statewide arrest and court data and three years of individual-level data from a large and diverse sample of county jails.

The task force’s scope of work was determined jointly by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Counties Stephan Currie and former Executive Director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association Blaine Koops.

The bills are expected to be referred to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

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