Task Force hands recommendations to Republican leadership

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist hand over the Task Force report to House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019.

The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration details 18 data-driven recommendations to reform the state’s criminal justice system in a report delivered Tuesday to Republican leaders.

The report focuses on making Michigan’s criminal justice system “smart on crime” while protecting victims of violence, the public and the rights of those within the justice system.

 “With the Task Force’s work, Michigan is on a path to reform that makes our state safer, stronger and more effective in achieving equal justice for all,” Chief Justice and Task Force Co-Chair Bridget M. McCormack said, adding that they want “to make Michigan a national leader in safety and justice.”

The task force traveled across the state hearing from stakeholders and analyzed data from The Pew Charitable Trusts to accurately understand each step of the process.

“Now that we have clear data and information about the state of Michigan’s jail and pretrial system, we can begin to take a more thoughtful approach to ensure our policies meet the needs of all who come into contact with that system,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, the task force's co-chair, said.

“The policy recommendations that we have outlined will provide people with a much healthier chance of success here in Michigan, and I’m ready to work with the Legislature to codify them into law.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, committed to reviewing and considering the recommendations.

“We have made significant progress in reforming our criminal justice system in recent years, but there is much more we can do to protect the rights, freedoms and safety of every single Michigan resident,” Chatfield said. “The House will review every one of these recommendations and begin work immediately to help protect the people of our state and give them the local and state government they deserve.”

 5 Key Recommended Proposals 

1. Reducing the number of driver’s license suspensions and revocations by limiting driving violations related to public safety, not for failure to pay fines and fees.

Reclassifying several minor traffic offenses as civil infractions instead of misdemeanors. Traffic violations comprised half of all criminal cases, the report found.

2. Reducing arrests for failure to appear, the most common reason for arrest, and for low-level crimes through warrant resolution initiatives and expanding officer discretion to issue appearance tickets instead of custodial arrests.

The report found that nearly 358,000 licenses were suspended in 2018 for failure to appear and failure to pay fines and fees.

3. Diverting people with behavioral health needs away from the justice system and into treatment, and investing in behavioral crisis training for law enforcement and jail officers.

Jail admissions screenings estimated almost 25 percent of those entering jails had a serious mental illness.

4. Establish tiered, higher thresholds for financial and non-financial pretrial release conditions that presumed release on personal recognizance, unless the court determines otherwise.

Nearly half of the 16,600 people in Michigan jails are pretrial detainees awaiting trial.

5. Enhancing protections, services and restitution for victims.

The Task Force heard testimony from crime survivors and victim advocates who noted a lack of support and resources for crime victims throughout the criminal justice process. It also recommended services for victims include counseling, shelter and transitional housing, and prioritized payment over other fines and fees.

Chatfield declined to give expenditure amounts the legislature might invest in the initiatives.

“The bottom line is you fund what your priorities are, and criminal justice reform is a priority for us,” Chatfield said.

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.