Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed 20 bipartisan bills reforming Michigan’s criminal justice system and aiming to prioritize alternatives to incarceration and arrests Monday.

The bills, sponsored by a variety of state senators and representatives from both parties, are based on recommendations from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration The bills aim to find alternatives to jail time in cases where individuals do not pose a threat to public safety

The bills are part of an ongoing effort to reduce Michigan’s jail population, which has tripled in less than 40 years, even as crime rates have fallen

Incarcerating individuals for probation violations, low-level driving infractions and misdemeanors was found to exhaust public resources without resulting in more secure communities, according to the task force’s findings

Whitmer expressed her support for the bills in a Monday press release, saying they were an example of how bipartisanship results in good policy making. 

“As a former prosecutor, I recognize how critical it is to take steps toward a smarter and more equitable justice system that not only saves taxpayer money, but keeps people in their communities,” Whitmer said. “Over the last two years, we’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to make Michigan a national leader on criminal justice reform … Today proves that it is possible to make tremendous progress to improve our state when we work together to get things done.” 

Whitmer has previously received criticism for her administration’s criminal justice policy, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic when cases ran rampant in prisons. In August, she signed an executive order aiming to improve testing and transfer protocols and limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Criminal justice advocates have advocated for increased action, arguing more reform was necessary. As of Dec. 10, 44 percent of individuals housed by the Michigan Department of Corrections tested positive for the virus and 95 individuals had died as a result of COVID-19, according to the Free Press. 

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey helped create the task force to conduct research and inform the creation of legislation. In the Monday press release, Shirkey echoed Whitmer’s statement and said he was happy with the recently-signed bills. 

 “This is not reactionary policy — it’s thoughtful and purposeful,” Shirkey said. “These bills are rooted in data, informed by research, and built on the consensus and compromise of a diverse group of stakeholders.”

The task force, led by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, included nonprofit organizations such as Safe & Just Michigan and the Detroit Justice Center, as well as other lawmakers, experts and stakeholders. Input from prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, crime victims, reform advocates and members of the public was also taken into account. 

McCormack said in the press release although more work needs to be done, she believes these bills are helpful and bring Michigan to the forefront of criminal justice reform. 

“Our courts and justice system belong to the people, and these reforms reflect a consensus-based process that brought together all who share our commitment to fairness, accountability, transparency, and efficiency,” McCormack said. “We have more work to do to continue making Michigan even safer, but we are now a national leader in implementing criminal justice reform that is data-driven, informed by research, responsive to community input, and committed to building public trust.” 

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, sponsored one of the 20 signed bills, which was part of a “Clean Slate for Kids” package. The bill ensures the use of summonses, rather than arrests, for first time failures to appeal following a warrant. In a tweet Monday, Irwin discussed his bill and how he believes it will benefit Michiganders. 

 “(My bill) says that juveniles who commit crimes can have their record cleared if they get back on track and stay out of trouble for years,” Irwin wrote. “Like ‘Clean Slate’ bills for adult expungement, this bill allows juvenile court records to be expunged automatically for non-assaultive crimes and provides greater opportunities for a judge to review other requests for set asides.”

More bills from this task force will be considered next session, specifically regarding pretrial release and decreasing the use of jail time in instances related to behavioral health. 

Daily News Editor Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu

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