Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration offers 18 recommendations

The bipartisan Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration on Jan. 14 delivered a report to the state Legislature with 18 major, data-driven recommendations that will make Michigan a national leader in criminal justice reform. The reform proposals balance twin goals of protecting victims and the public while safeguarding the rights of all people. The report details who is in Michigan’s jails and recommends steps to reduce jail populations and make communities safer.

Key Reform Proposals  
Reducing the number of driver’s license suspensions

In 2018, nearly 358,000 driver’s licenses were suspended in Michigan for failing to appear in court and failing to pay fines and fees. Testimony revealed these suspensions take a heavy toll on families and employers while using up limited public safety resources. The Task Force recommended license suspensions or revocations be limited to driving violations related to public safety–they should not occur for failure to pay fines or fees. They also recommended several traffic offenses like driving with a suspended license be reclassified as civil infractions rather than misdemeanors. 

Reducing arrests for failure to appear and low-level crimes
 Task Force data revealed that while crime is at a 50-year low, Michigan jail populations have nearly tripled. Researchers also determined failing to appear in court is the most common reason for arrest, consuming substantial law enforcement resources that could otherwise be invested within communities. The Task Force recommends prohibiting arrest warrants for certain first-time failures to appear and developing innovative warrant resolution initiatives. It also recommends expanding officer discretion to issue appearance tickets in lieu of custodial arrests.

Divert people with behavioral health needs away from the justice system
Jail admissions screenings in several counties estimated nearly one quarter of those entering jails had a serious mental illness. Substance abuse was also prevalent in a vast majority of the jail population.
The Task Force made  recommendations to deflect and divert certain individuals with behavioral health needs away from the justice system and into treatment. The recommendations also call for behavioral health crisis training for law enforcement, dispatch, and jail officers. Such training increases safety for both the individual and law enforcement while facilitating deflection.
 
Establish higher thresholds for financial and non-financial pretrial release conditions
Nearly half of the 16,600 people in Michigan jails are pretrial detainees. The Task Force heard expert testimony that when wealth is the deciding factor between pretrial release and detention, poor people may be denied the equal protection the U.S. Constitution requires.
Pretrial incarceration also has negative effects on employment, housing, and families. Moreover, research has shown that imposing financial conditions for release are no more effective than release on recognizance for low risk defendants.
The Task Force recommended creating a tiered statutory framework for pretrial release that presumes release on personal recognizance unless the court makes an individualized determination the person poses a significant risk of not appearing, absconding, or causing bodily harm to another person. 

Enhancing protections and services for victims
The Task Force heard extensive testimony from crime survivors and victim advocates who noted support and resources for crime victims is lacking both during and after the criminal justice process.
To address this need, the Task Force recommended significant investments to expand domestic violence training for law enforcement and increased supportive services for victims, including counseling, shelter, and transitional housing.
They also recommended developing steps to ensure the restitution process is transparent, efficient, and easy to navigate. Further, payment to victims must be more clearly prioritized over payment of other fines and fees.

  A More Efficient Justice System 
The Task Force determined justice system costs are the third largest county expenditure after spending on health, welfare, and public works. In 2017, county-level spending for public safety and courts was more $2 billion, with nearly one quarter spent on county jail and corrections costs, not including the costs of new jail construction or improvements.
By reducing jail admissions and increasing jail alternatives, the Task Force recommendations are designed to increase the efficiency of the justice system and allow public resources to be more effectively deployed to help victims and provide support and treatment for those with behavioral disorders.
 
How the Report was Developed 
The report is the product of nine months of data collection, expert analysis, and discussion, including the input of more than 150 people who attended five public hearings to share their views and experiences with the criminal justice system. The hearings can be viewed at  www.courts.mi.gov/micjreform. 
Appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Task Force includes judges, state legislators, law enforcement, county officials and a wide range of other stakeholders, including both a victim of crime and a formerly incarcerated person. Data analysis and technical assistance has been provided to the Task Force by The Pew Charitable Trusts and will continue through September 2020 as the Legislature considers the reform plan.

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