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Bills aimed at changing criminal justice reform in Michigan signed into law

Posted at 5:30 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 05:46:30-05

(WXYZ) — A series of new laws in Lansing seek to change Michigan jails for good by ditching certain minimums and practices that often leave non-violent, low-level offenders sitting behind bars.

Related: Here's a full list of newly signed bills expanding criminal justice reform in Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills into law on Monday – which among many other things ditches license suspensions for things unrelated to dangerous driving, allows for appearance tickets instead of arrests for some violations, and seeks to give youthful offenders a fresh start.

The package includes more than two dozen different bills, a lot of layers to the sweeping criminal justice reform which had bipartisan support.

At the center of it is the goal of keeping jails a place for people who pose a real risk to public safety.

Using data from the Michigan Joint Task Force on jail and pretrial incarceration, Michigan lawmakers sponsored the series of bills.

“The governor appointed the task force a little over two years ago to review the data and to look into jail utilization in Michigan," State Court Administrator Tom Boyd said.

Boyd said one of the top reasons people end up in jail is driving on a suspended license. The new laws seek to change that.

“We should use jail as a consequence, a punishment, for crimes that threaten public safety," he said. "Unfortunately the task force found out that many times we’re using jail simply to grab onto people who probably would come into court if we invited them.”

Another measure allows people who commit drug offenses or have outstanding warrants to access SNAP and other food assistant programs.

Two house bills and a senate bill make up a "good moral character package" included in the reforms, which aims to expand job opportunities post conviction by limiting a board or agency from considering criminal or civil judgments for people trying to enter licensed work.

Ultimately, Boyd said these laws will make Michigan jails more effective by eliminating their use as holding centers for people who don't threaten public safety.

“That’s not wise use of our law enforcement’s time to arrest people or our jail’s time to house them. It’s expensive and ineffective. It also takes them away from things like work and family," he said.

The task force is chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridge McCormack.