The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration convened by Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made 18 recommendations to ease overcrowding in jails and to save money by streamlining the justice system.
“I think people in Michigan should be optimistic that a bipartisan process could produce a robust and bold vision for reform of this system that impacts so many people's lives," Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist told the Detroit Free Press.
Gilchrist served as co-chair of the 21-member task force collation, which consisted of law enforcement officials, lawmakers, attorneys, advocates, survivors of crime and formerly incarcerated people.
The members of the body delivered a final report to Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield during a news conference on Jan. 14. The lawmakers expressed their support for the effort, which Chatfield, a Republican, described as “smart on crime.”
The proposals would reduce the number of driver’s license suspensions by eliminating suspensions not related to driving safety. According to the Free Press report, the state issued 357,795 license suspensions for non-driving issues such as missing a court date or failure to pay a fine because the person could not afford it.
Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center and a member of the task force, said the existing system creates a "vicious cycle."
Further proposals would establish a higher threshold for cash bail targeting violent offenders or those who are deemed a risk and keeping people who are not a threat from sitting in jail because they can’t afford the bail.
Yet another reform would reclassify some low-level misdemeanors as merely civil infractions and lead to a fine, not an arrest that for a time takes a booking officer off the street.
Other proposals would reduce arrests for failure to appear in court, the most common type of arrest in Michigan in 2018 with 29,295 arrests, the Free Press report noted. In addition, officers on the street would be given greater discretion to issue tickets as an alternative to arrest.
Also proposed is greater diversion of people with mental health issues to treatment providers keeping them out of jails, and limiting the use of certain pretrial release from jail conditions, for example, waiving a requirement for a drug test to gain release when the charges are not drug-related.
The report also recommended release of non-violent prisoners when jails reach capacity, mental health training for officers, shortening the time between arrest and arraignment and reducing the number of people arrested for misdemeanors or for certain types of lower-level felonies.