The 21-member Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration met Wednesday at Wayne State University Law School to outline goals, which include reducing criminal justice costs for taxpayers.
The group will break into subgroups to better analyze topics such as cash bail, arrests, fines and alternatives to incarceration.
Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist II, a co-chair of the task force, said "this is our moment to create real change" and urged the group to consider the purpose of incarceration.
“Is this a person we’re angry with? Afraid of? Or afraid for?" he asked.
"Roughly half of the people held in Michigan's jails on any given day have not been convicted of a crime and are constitutionally presumed innocent as they await trial," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order establishing the task force says. "Little statewide data exist to account for who is booked into local jails, how long they stay, and why."
That local data will be available by October.
Lee Chatfield, a Republican and speaker of the Michigan House, said the group will work together to form solutions.
“It’s important we’re honest with ourselves about why we’re falling short," Chatfield said. "Anyone can identify a problem. But it takes real leaders to present solutions."
Task force members include elected officials, law enforcement, criminal defense representatives, and activists.
"Incarceration is always a policy failure," said Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center, pointing out that 60 percent of Wayne County Jail inmates haven't yet been tried “because they can't afford to bail out."
The task force will analyze incarceration issues as Wayne County builds a new jail and Macomb County tries to sell bonds to do so.
"The elected leaders of this state have a strong interest in easing the burden on county budgets, taxpayers and citizens by ensuring jail beds are used in targeted ways that promote public safety and economic stability," a later portion of Whitmer's executive order reads.
One goal is to expand jail alternatives.
Wayne County has reduced jail population counts from 2,200 per day in 2014 to 1,474 in 2017 through tethering, a program that uses GPS to track and monitor participants with alcohol monitoring equipment. An average of 690 people were on the tether program per day. The program costs taxpayers $123 per day per inmate, which is significantly cheaper than incarcerating them.
The tether program “saved 237,250 jail bed days or $30 million savings to the General Fund,”, according to the Wayne County budget report for 2018-19.
The Detroit Justice Center, an advocacy group seeking to reform the criminal justice system, said Wayne County Jail would have only 750 inmates if everyone could afford bail.
The $533 million price tag of building new jails – $380 million from Wayne County and $153 million from Dan Gilbert's Rock Ventures – pushed some to suggest alternatives such as renovating another jail at a cheaper cost.
Michigan taxpayers in 2017 paid $478 million on county jails and other corrections costs representing 23 percent of county spending.
Rural counties now jail more people in Michigan than urban counties, following a national trend.
Task force meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 23 in Traverse City. Public testimony will be taken beginning at 1:30 p.m.
A final report and recommendations are expected to be released in January.