MacDonald bill part of bipartisan jail reform package

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Michael D. MacDonald on Wednesday introduced legislation as part of bipartisan reforms to implement several key findings of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.

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 best way out of a life of crime is a job,” said MacDonald, R-Macomb Township. “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.”

MacDonald’s bill would reduce probation terms, tailor probation conditions to address risks and needs and cap jail sanctions for technical probation violations.

The other five Senate bills are sponsored by Sens. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit; and Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville.

The Senate bill package addresses decision points in the justice system that contribute to jail admissions and length of stay, from arrest through sentencing and probation supervision. The measures would 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 House of Representatives would 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 task force.

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

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

The task force policy recommendations were informed by over 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.