On December 4, Barbara Levine, CAPPS associate director for research and policy joined others testifying before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support of HB 5078. The bill would establish a Michigan sentencing guidelines commission identical to the one created in 1998 and subsequently abolished in 2002. Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) sponsored the legislation, which has 59 Republican and Democratic cosponsors.
If the bill passes both the House and Senate and is signed by the Governor in its current form, the sentencing guidelines commission would collect, analyze, and disseminate information regarding state and local sentencing practices for felonies, as well as the use of prisons and jails. The commission would use that data to recommend revisions to the sentencing guidelines that would better meet the legislature’s goals.
CAPPS supported the bill, which was unanimously approved by the committee. Rep. Haveman testified that he sponsored the bill because “Michigan has $2 billion corrections budget and, as responsible steward of taxpayers’ money, we should make sure that our sentencing policies are fair, protect public safety and are fiscally responsible.”
He also emphasized that, if Michigan had retained the sentencing commission, there would have been no need to hire the Council of State Governments to review our state sentencing and parole policies.
Ann Yantus, manager, Special Unit on Pleas & Sentencing , State Appellate Defenders Office, detailed the cumulative impact of the 18 years of changes affecting sentences since the commission was abolished. In addition to altering the guidelines, the legislature has created longer maximum sentences, new mandatory minimums and permitted more consecutive sentencing.
Levine’s testimony echoed Yantus’s concerns. “Frequent and uncoordinated changes to guidelines scoring and offense classifications have kept pushing up the average length of time that Michigan prisoners are incarcerated,” she said. “Yet research finds no connection between longer prison stays and increased public safety.
“A properly composed commission with the right safeguards in place could restore order, consistency and fairness to Michigan’s sentencing policies,” said Levine.
Levine reminded committee members that a 2012 Pew Center for the States report found that Michigan has the longest average prison length of stay of any of the 35 states it studied. Since length of stay is a function of both sentencing and parole policies, a sentencing guidelines commission could help bring Michigan’s length of stay in line with national norms..
Levine thanked Haveman for his leadership on the bill. She also offered a number of amendments that would extend the commission’s authority to include misdemeanors, expand its members to include mental health and juvenile justice professionals and a district judge and improve its functioning.
HB 5078 was unanimously voted out of committee with no amendments. It now awaits action on the House floor. CAPPS will keep members informed about the progress of the legislation.
Click to read full text of HB 5078
Read>> Levine’s full testimony