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(The Center Square) – With nine days left in the legislative calendar session this year, criminal justice reform advocates on Thursday encouraged Michigan lawmakers to pass sweeping criminal justice reform.

The bills are the product of the bipartisan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which have the combined aim to improve public safety and slash taxpayer costs attributable to unproductive criminal justice policy.

Michigan taxpayers in 2017 paid $478 million on county jails and other corrections costs representing 23% of county spending.

The legislature has already approved nearly 24 task force bills and sent them to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's desk.

“Believe it or not, progressives and conservatives can find common ground,” Annie Patnaude, state director for Americans for Prosperity, said. “When it comes to criminal justice reform in Michigan, we have. We agree that the Constitution matters. We agree that Michiganders constitutional rights matter, too.

“Lawmakers have spent this session addressing task force reforms that put people first and stand up for every individuals’ constitutional rights."

But 18 bills remain on the legislative docket for final passage.

“These bills make communities safer and stronger,” Kimberly Buddin, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said. “They also strive for equality and fairness as they help dismantle racism in the criminal legal system.

“This package proves that when we work together, we can make real progress in Lansing for real people across Michigan.” 

House Bills 5846 and 5847 aim to stop drivers’ license suspensions for nonviolent and minor crimes, such as failing to pay child support, unpaid tickets or furnishing alcohol to minors.

The third-most common reason Michiganders are jailed is for driving on a suspended license.

About 350,000 Michiganders get their license suspended for unpaid fines and fees every year, Executive Director of Safe and Just Michigan John Cooper said.

“The broad bipartisan support for these bills has been very encouraging,” Cooper said. “Smart criminal justice policy saves resources and improves public safety. Clearly. These are outcomes we can all agree on.”

Bill supporters argue it’s hard to pay fines without a vehicle to travel to work and pay bills.

Senate Bill 1046 seek to grant law enforcement officers the ability to give citations instead of arrest a person for hundreds of minor, nonviolent, and driving offenses, Buddin said.

Senate Bills 1047- 1051 seek to reform sentencing and probation standards, including allowing defendants who’ve completed over half of their probation to be eligible for early discharge and require parole conditions to be designed to reduce recidivism.

House Bills 5844, and 5854-5857 aim to reform a wide range of mandatory minimum sentences to allow judges discretion in sentencing nonviolent, minor violations to account for collateral damages of the criminal justice system like broken families.

“At least 59 misdemeanor offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences that prevent judges from using their discretion to protect our communities and residents’ constitutional rights,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy Senior Strategist for State Affairs David Guenthner said.

“These mandatory minimums can prevent those with mental illnesses and those accused of incredibly minor violations from getting the help they need, and making it more likely they will be back in court again later."

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.