Snyder signs bipartisan legislation to modernize Michigan's criminal justice system

Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed into law a package of bills aimed at modernizing Michigan’s criminal justice system by updating parole and probation policies and implementing new tools to help prevent repeat criminal offenses.

Joined by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington, Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson and KPEP President William DeBoer at the recently-opened Walnut and Park Coffee Shop, the governor spoke about how reforming corrections policies helps prepare offenders to re-enter society.

“We are continuously looking for ways to reform Michigan’s criminal justice system in ways that will make our communities safer,” Gov. Snyder said. “The best way to do this is through an evidence-based approach – by analyzing the problem and figuring out where we stand, we are better equipped to make continuous improvements.

“This legislation is a good step forward to build on the work we’ve already done to improve reentry and I hope to see more work done this term on measures that will send fewer people to prison and allocate more resources to address the root causes of criminal behavior,” said Snyder.

In a 2015 special message to Michiganders and the Legislature, Snyder expressed the steps the state can take to help victims, prevent crimes before they occur and bring individuals who have committed crimes back into their communities with the skills they need to find gainful employment and not return to the criminal justice system.

The 18-bill package includes:

• SB 16, sponsored by Sen. John Proos, requires the MDOC to create a Parole Sanction Certainty program in at least the five largest counties that would target high risk parolees within those counties. The program would utilize concepts similar to the Swift and Sure program for probationers and would leave most of the key aspects of the program design, including which sanctions would be used, to the MDOC.

• Senate Bills 5-7, sponsored by Sens. John Proos, Tonya Schuitmaker and Marty Knollenberg, respectively, create a new statutory definition for the term “recidivism” intended to create three separate measures of recidivism (re-arrest recidivism, re-conviction recidivism, and re-incarceration recidivism) to better estimate the impact of recidivism on different parts of the criminal justice system.

• SB 8, sponsored by Sen. Peter MacGregor, creates a new act requiring that the parole and probation populations be supervised utilizing evidence-based practice, and that programs that do not fit these criteria must be eliminated within four years.

• SB 9, also sponsored by Proos, establishes that organizations may apply to provide volunteer reentry services within MDOC, with the department establishing standard policies for the screening, approval or denial of these groups.

• SB 10, sponsored by O’Brien, collects data regarding how many prisoners are not being paroled at their earliest possible release date and the reasons for parole denial. Gov. Snyder noted in an accompanying signing letter that the bill does not capture a complete picture of all the reasons why a prisoner might be denied parole and encouraged follow-up legislation that would improve the quality of information provided.

• SB 12, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, establishes a new expedited commutation process for those with medical conditions. The maximum length of this process would be 235 days shorter than the maximum length currently allowed by law.

• SB 13, also sponsored by Proos, limits the maximum incarceration sanction for a technical probation violation to 30 days for the first three violations, subject to certain exemptions in the bill. The bill does not prohibit the court from revoking probation and sentencing an offender to jail or prison for a technical violation.

• SB 15, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, allows a judge to end an offender’s probation term prior to the original term length and requires the MDOC and SCAO to produce reports on the impact of these shortened probation terms.

• SB 17, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey, establishes the Supervising Region Incentive Program, allowing participating MDOC regions to access additional funding for parole and probation supervision if they can bring down the revocation rate for both populations on a quarter-by-quarter basis.

• SB 18 and 19, sponsored by Sens. Ken Horn and Dale Zorn, respectively, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to remove parole absconders from cash assistance and food assistance programs.

• SB 20, sponsored by Sen. David Robertson, replaces references to “General Education Development Certificate (GED)” with “High School Equivalency Certificate” throughout the Corrections Code.

• SB 21, sponsored by Sen. Rebekah Warren, clarifies that victims of crimes who are under the age of 18, may receive compensation from the Crime Victim’s Rights Fund and requires a new report that will be published by DHHS on an annual basis, quantifying the number of victims receiving compensation from the fund who are minors, basic demographics for that subset, and how the funds were utilized.

• SB 22, sponsored by Sen. Bert Johnson, requires the MDOC to develop plans for prisoners between the ages of 18 and 22, and provide age-appropriate programming, to the extent it can do so, to aid in youth rehabilitation.

• SB 23, also sponsored by Proos, makes several changes to the Swift and Sure Court program intended to bring about consistency, ensure adequate future funding and increase the number of eligible probationers who can participate in the program.

• SB 24, also sponsored by Proos, establishes a Swift and Sure Court as a permanent specialty court, and allows participants from other counties to be supervised by the court if all parties agree.
Gov. Snyder also vetoed two bills:

• SB 11, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Colbeck, sought to enact the Criminal Justice Data Collection and Management Program Act and would have required the State Court Administrative Office and MDOC to gather data addressing a variety of matters relevant to policymaking within the criminal justice system. While Gov. Snyder recognizes the need for complete and accurate data, he said the present bill could be improved to address the significant challenges in collecting the necessary data.

• SB 50, sponsored by Sen. Darwin Booher, would require the MDOC to implement a County Jail Bed Savings Program that could result in state prisoners that receive determinate two-year sentences being placed in a county jail for the duration of their sentence, rather than prison. Snyder noted that the program was not consistent with the MDOC’s efforts to create offender reentry success, and could potentially cost taxpayers more money.

For more information on this and other legislation, please visit