MI-CEMI represents a broad spectrum of advocates pushing for change in the criminal legal system: from grassroots to grasstops, reform to abolition, and all across the state, our members have a wide range of perspectives and priorities.
Legislative priorities are still shaking out for 2023, and you can expect many of ideas that didn’t move forward last cycle to come back. Here are a few areas we see as emerging high priority policies from the MI-CEMI Steering Team Organizations.
Implement the Findings of the Task Force On Juvenile Justice Reform: The task force brought together stakeholders from different parts of the youth justice system across Michigan. Its findings provide a roadmap for improving care and support for kids in trouble. MI-CEMI founding member Michigan Center for Youth Justice (MCYJ) is focused on making sure they go from ideas to policies, with support of other MI-CEMI members such as the ACLU of Michigan. This includes:
- Enhance the Child Care Fund (CCF): MCYJ is working to help establish a minimum framework of juvenile justice best practices statewide. These best practices would be supported by an increase in the community-based services and supervision reimbursement rate for counties and tribes.
- Expand the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission: The expansion would include development, oversight, and compliance with youth defense standards in county defense systems and expand the State Appellate Defender Office.
- Strengthen and Expand the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman: The need is to enhance new and current processes for handling, investigating, and reporting incidents in juvenile facilities.
- Expand the Diversion Act: MCYJ and their partners aim to change the law so that the overwhelming majority of offenses are eligible for pre-court diversion, based on the use of a risk screening tool and other factors.
- Enhance Traditional Waivers and Designations: Factors considered by courts for traditional waivers and designations would account for youth’s developmental maturity and emotional and mental health, and their ability to access treatment and rehabilitation. This affects when youth are transferred to adult court.
- Eliminate most Juvenile Court Fine and Fees: Eliminate most fines and fees, with the exception of things like restitution and victim rights funds.
- Addressing Youth In Solitary Confinement-like Conditions: In response to reports of mistreatment of youth in Wayne County’s juvenile detention facility and beyond, Citizens For Prison Reform is advocating for the end of solitary confinement-like conditions in the youth justice system as part of their Open MI Door campaign.
There are many ways to promote public safety that do not rely on incarceration and to provide for oversight and accountability for law enforcement. We collectively call these “Incarceration Off-Ramps.” In addition to local efforts across Michigan, there are some state-level proposals moving forward.
- Police Reform & Oversight: Last session bills to ban chokeholds, improve use of force oversight, ban no-knock warrants, and more were stuck in committee. This year the ACLU of Michigan is working to advance smart police oversight legislation.
Length of Stay
As Safe and Just Michigan observes, “Based on average length of stay in prison, Michigan has one of the most punitive criminal justice systems in the county.” Not only do these excessive sentences waste taxpayer dollars and separate families, they fail to improve public safety.
- Ending Juvenile Life Without Parole: We were so close in 2022 with the bipartisan support for SB 848, SB 849, SB 850, and SB 851. Safe and Just Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, and many other advocates have high hopes to see this get across the finish line in 2023.
- Second Look Resentencing: Throughout 2022 a coalition of organizations including American Friends Service Committee, Safe and Just Michigan, The Sentencing Project, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and more worked to lay the groundwork to advance “Second Look” policies in Michigan. Second Look allows someone who has already served 10-15 years in prison the opportunity to go before their sentencing judge for a potential resentencing. If successful, they would be eligible to go before the parole board earlier. Second Look policies recognize that long prison sentences don’t deter crime, that people who have served long sentences have very low recidivism rates, and that mature adults don’t make the same mistakes as emerging adults do.
- Sentencing Commission: In December 2021 Safe and Just Michigan released a report titled Do Michigan’s Sentencing Guidelines Meet the Legislature’s Goals? A Historical and Empirical Analysis of Prison Terms for Life-Maximum Offenses. Among the recommendations is a proposal to re-establish a sentencing commission to use expert guidance and data-driven rigor to clean up and maintain sentencing guidelines.
- Good Time Credits: MI-CEMI Steering Committee member Citizens for Prison Reform is supporting the Good Time Credits bills sponsored by Michigan Justice Advocacy. This policy would allow incarcerated people the ability to earn time off their prison sentence by demonstrating behavioral change in measurable ways.
Prison Conditions and MDOC Oversight
- MDOC Oversight: Longstanding bipartisan concerns about Michigan Department of Corrections conditions, practices, and oversight have led to broad-based calls for improved oversight of the department. MI-CEMI member organizations have proposed various approaches to this problem, such as the proposal for an oversight board for the women’s prison (e.g American Friends Service Committee’s proposed SB 487 of 2021), and/or Citizens for Prison Reform’s efforts to create a Corrections Oversight Board or Commission, and to expand the duties and powers of the Legislative Corrections Ombudsman.
- Segregation and Conditions Reform: Citizens For Prison Reform has been leading the Open MI Door campaign to address solitary confinement use and conditions in Michigan and plans to continue to push for tight restrictions on the use of solitary confinement and strong regulations regarding treatment and conditions that lead to the use of solitary confinement.
- Phone Fees: As discussed in our Look Back to 2022, Safe and Just Michigan, Citizens for Prison Reform, AFSC, Worth Rises, and others won a major victory to reduce fees through the budget process. They continue to push forward to fully eliminate the fees (as California and Connecticut have), and are exploring both legislative and policy options.
- Family Visitation: Just as eliminating phone fees is a way to maintain family connections and reduce recidivism, so is allowing family visits. However, under current Legislative Administrative Rule, an incarcerated person can lose their visits for conduct unrelated to visits; for example, having two tickets for substance use while incarcerated. Citizens For Prison Reform is working to get the Legislative Administrative Rule changed that allows the Director of DOC to take visits permanently, to one that is supportive of family contact and reunification.
- Medicaid-funded Trauma Informed Peer-led reentry (TIPLR): Nation Outside is developing a groundbreaking program of peer-led reentry and laying the groundwork for it to be funded through Medicaid because previous incarceration is a social determinant of health, and is working with lawmakers and various state agencies to develop the legislative boilerplate language to move this policy forward.
- Fair Chance Housing: Housing discrimination is a major barrier for people with criminal histories that also impedes successful reentry for people leaving incarceration. Nation Outside plans to continue their work for Fair Chance Housing legislation at the state level. But fair housing can’t wait for the legislature, so they are working to pass local fair chance housing legislation in Lansing, East Lansing, Flint, and Inkster to both provide immediate relief to people who are struggling to access housing because of a criminal record as well as to build support for a statewide policy.
- Vital Documents: As discussed in our 2022 recap, we had great hope for the vital documents bills introduced in the last session, and we hope to see them move through the process this legislative cycle. The State Appellate Defender Office, Center for Employment Opportunities, and Nation Outside continue to advocate for these changes, and that the vital documents process start earlier to accommodate people who have complicated records requests.
The proposals above are efforts led by MI-CEMI Steering Team Organizations. That’s not all that is happening in the work of trying to end mass incarceration. Here are some other efforts in the works:
- Funding for Violence Intervention: For too long we have seen police as the only tool to deal with violence in the community. Thankfully non-police community-based violence intervention efforts like FORCE Detroit, Ceasefire Detroit, and Advance Peace Lansing are emerging as alternative ways to prevent violence. Governor Whitmer’s budget proposal includes $8 million in one-time funding for grants to existing community violence intervention projects.
- Productivity Credits: The Alliance for Safety and Justice is planning to re-introduce legislation to incentivize rehabilitation by allowing incarcerated people to earn reductions in their prison sentence by engaging in educational and vocational training programs.