Senate approves criminal justice reforms

LANSING — The Michigan Senate approved bipartisan legislation last week to reform the state’s criminal justice system, said Sen. John Proos, who led the effort on the 21-bill package.
“Michigan needs a criminal justice system that helps break the cycle of incarceration, reduces costs to taxpayers and increases safety in our communities,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “These common sense reforms are grounded in successful programs from other states and sound evidence-based research. They address the way that we keep our young people from engaging in a life of crime, head off those who have started down that road and successfully rehabilitate offenders who have been sentenced to prison.”
Senate Bills 5-24 and 50 would make reforms throughout the criminal justice system, from probation to prison time to parole and integration back into society. Among the reforms included in the package are ways to better track and evaluate recidivism data, expedite medical commutation hearings, encourage partnerships with outside volunteers beneficial to prisoners, and provide a tax credit for employing a probationer or parolee.
“Roughly 38,000 of our state’s 42,000 prisoners will eventually return to our communities,” Proos said. “This reform is about focusing our criminal justice efforts on using smarter, data-driven approaches to efficiently and effectively rehabilitate prisoners so they can eventually be successfully reintroduced back into society.”
SBs 13, 15 and 17 would limit the revocation time that a probation violator would serve for technical violations, allow judges to shorten a probation term as a result of good behavior and provide an incentive to probation agents and supervisors to keep probationers out of prison.
SBs 23 and 24, both sponsored by Proos, would update the state’s swift and sure probation sanctioning program. The reforms would allow a circuit court to institute a swift and sure sanctions court and accept eligible participants from other jurisdictions.
“We are working together as Republicans and Democrats on improving our criminal justice system, because we understand the unfortunate and devastating impact of crime on its victims and our communities,” Proos said. “This restorative justice effort is designed to reduce recidivism, crime and prison costs while ensuring that the safety of the public is always the top priority.”
The bills have been sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate has approved the following criminal justice reforms:

Parole reform
• SB 16 creates the Parole Sanction Certainty Act, similar to the existing Swift and Sure probation sanctioning program, to help parolees avoid returning to prison by participating in a program that prepares them for life on the outside.
• SB 11 creates the Criminal Justice Data Collection & Management Program Act to provide for the collection and reporting of data related to crimes, offenders and recidivism.
• SB 18 requires the Department of Corrections to report parole absconders or those that fail to report to and inform their supervising agent of their whereabouts to the Department of Health and Human Services.
• SB 19 permits MDHHS to cut off public assistance for confirmed absconders reported to the department by MDOC as required by SB 18.

Probation reform
• SB 13 limits the time that a probation violator could serve for technical violations to 30 days imprisonment, not including any new crimes committed while on probation.
• SB 15 allows a judge to reduce a probation if 50 percent of the term has been served and if a probation officer provides the recommendation, pending a hearing with victims.
• SB 17 creates incentives to reward regional MDOC operations for utilizing practices and procedures that reduce parole and probation violations.
• SB 23 expands Swift and Sure eligibility as a voluntary program and allows courts to accept participants from other jurisdictions.
• SB 24 designates Swift and Sure as a specialty court.

Reducing recidivism
• SB 8 creates the Recidivism Reduction Act to require MDOC and local agencies receiving state funding to supervise probationers and parolees and to utilize evidence-based supervision practices to reduce recidivism.
• SB 14 requires the Department of Talent and Economic Development to create a program to provide grants to employers for hiring individuals on probation or parole.
• SBs 5, 6 and 7 update existing laws to uniformly define the term recidivism in Michigan, standardizing the term to mean re-arrest, reconviction or incarceration in prison or jail within five years of release from incarceration, placement on probation or conviction (whichever is latest) for convictions and probation and parole violations.

Prison reform
• SB 22 requires MDOC to house 18- to 22-year-old prisoners together and provide age-appropriate programming for these younger inmates aimed at “youth rehabilitation.”
• SB 10 requires the MDOC to submit a report detailing the number of prisoners eligible for parole who have not been released.
• SB 9 requires MDOC to establish a centralized prisoner volunteer registry to allow volunteers to be screened to become registered, qualified prison volunteers.
• SB 12 expedites the review and hearing process for a reprieve, commutation or pardon based in part on a prisoner’s medical condition.
• SB 21 allows the Crime Victim’s Rights Fund to be used for child assessment centers to assist children who have experienced trauma or abuse as a result of a criminal offense.
• SB 20 allows a high school equivalency certificate — not just a GED — to satisfy a requirement for prisoners serving more than two years to be released on parole.
• SB 50 creates a county bed program for housing qualified low-risk prisoners at a lower cost than housing them in a state prison.
• Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 encourages the governor to change the name of the MDOC to the Michigan Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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