The recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration are getting ready to officially start their move through the Michigan Legislature next week.
When people ask me about the best ways to address over-incarceration I usually with the question: “Do you mean in jails or in prisons?”
Jails house people who are arrested pretrial, waiting for a trial, waiting for bed space to open up in prison, or who are sentenced for less than one year of incarceration, while prisons house people who are sentenced for more than one year. You can also be sent from prison to jail if, for instance, you are called to testify in a separate trial.
We often forget that jails and prisons are separate, and that the vast majority of people who get arrested spend time in our jails without entering prison. Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders every single year spend time in our jails for charges from driving with a suspended license to non-serious misdemeanors. Prison sentences are longer, but the collateral consequences are often equally severe for people regardless of if they spent time in jail or in prison.
Several months ago, we received the recommendations of the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. Next week, starting July 21, the first wave of legislation inspired by will officially start to move through the legislative process. The legislation is supported by everyone from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack to Senate Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).
What Bills Are Included and What Are The Bills About?
The first wave of legislation to implement those recommendations has three goals:
- Eliminating most driver’s license suspensions (not related to public safety): HB 5846, HB 5847, HB 5848, HB 5849, HB 5850, HB 5851, HB 5852
- Eliminating jail mandatory minimums: HB 5854, HB 5855, HB 5856, HB 5857, HB 5844
- Removing incarceration in jail as an option for some traffic misdemeanor charges (where nobody was harmed or put at risk of harm) HB 5853
Why These Bills Matter
Would you believe that a large number of the underlying crimes in our state happen because of low-level misdemeanor charges?
One of the most shocking findings from the task force research was that one of our largest drivers of jail incarceration in Michigan was driver license suspensions unrelated to public safety.
Imagine you were ticketed but were unable to pay. Months later, as a result of this failure to pay, your driver’s license was suspended and you had to make the decision between driving to work without a license or staying home and getting fired. Like most people, you chose to go to work. Subsequently, you were pulled over and arrested for driving without a license. Stories like this play out across our state daily as hundreds of thousands of people fall into debt traps.
We also have a surprisingly large number of people arrested for non-serious misdemeanors in Michigan who are incarcerated simply because the statute enforces mandatory minimums on judges for those crimes. If it is a non-serious misdemeanor, and a judge thinks that a person’s release poses no public safety risk, why would we insist on incarceration at a cost to the taxpayer?
If we can substantially reduce the number of unnecessary incarcerations in our state, why wouldn’t we immediately endeavor to do so? All of us at Safe & Just Michigan enthusiastically support action on this first wave of legislation to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.