LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers approved legislation Wednesday aimed at keeping the more than 100,000 criminals under state supervision from committing new crimes, a move one supporter called a “milestone” shift in the treatment of offenders.
Included in the 20-bill package is a proposal that would limit the length of incarceration for offenders who violate their probation. Another would create a more intensive parole program with progressively harsher penalties for violating the terms of parole as opposed to automatically sending parolees back to prison.
Both provisions are an attempt to keep minor criminals out of county jails and state prisons that can be 10 times more expensive than supervising probationers and parolees. The bills won House passage with varying levels of support and will go to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature after the Senate concurs with changes on Thursday.
Democratic Rep. David LaGrand of Grand Rapids said legislators have for too long enacted criminal justice laws that are based on motivations of “fear” and “anger” instead of what truly protects the public. He said a measure that would require the use of evidence-based supervision and recidivism intervention practices within four years is “a milestone in how we as a body approach the issue of criminal law.”
One bill would explicitly let judges reduce probationers’ length of supervision for good behavior. Others would officially define what recidivism means and require precise data on whether offenders on probation or parole are committing new crimes or committing technical violations such as failing to report for a visit with an officer or abusing a substance.
About half of the state’s 41,000 prisoners were locked up for parole or probation violations, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.
The House surprisingly fell short when trying to approve a bill that would require the state to pay up to $7,200 a year to employers who hire ex-felons. The failed vote came after majority Republicans amended the legislation — which had received overwhelming approval in the GOP-led Senate — to only allow the grants if an ex-con fills a job that has been posted for at least six months. Democrats objected to the change.
“It really gutted the spirit of the intent of the bill,” said Rep. Erika Geiss of Taylor, contending that employment is important to combating recidivism.
The amendment “made it a better bill … for the Republican caucus” and is “something that helped us get votes,” said Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Tom Leonard. The House could vote again on the measure at a later date.
The House also dropped a Senate-passed requirement to house 18- to 22-year-old state prisoners together instead of with older inmates. The new version of the legislation instead would require the Department of Corrections to develop rehabilitation plans for younger prisoners and to give status updates to the Legislature.
Other bills would force the Corrections Department to report the number of parole-eligible inmates who have not been released and to speed up the process if the governor asks the parole board to review a reprieve, commutation or pardon based in part on a prisoner’s medical condition.
The House also voted to encourage Snyder to change the agency’s name to the Michigan Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The U.S. Justice Action Network, which represents the left and right of the political spectrum, and Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette applauded legislators for the votes.
“Passing these vital improvements to parole, probation and prison systems positions Michigan as an early leader in 2017 among those states working to reform their justice system,” said Holly Harris, the group’s executive director.