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Incarcerated people could receive early release through "productivity credits"

Flickr user Jobs For Felons Hub/Flickr

A bipartisan package of bills called The Safer Michigan Act would offer certain incarcerated people an earlier release and parole date by earning what are being called productivity credits through educational and vocational programs.

Productivity credits would be awarded to eligible incarcerated people who complete an educational or vocational program approved by the Department of Corrections. Productivity credits could also be earned through getting a high school diploma, high school equivalency certificate or a higher education degree.

But not all incarcerated people are eligible.

People who are already incarcerated are not eligible. Only those sentenced on or after the bills’ effective date could earn credits. The bills would not apply to people who are not parole eligible or those convicted of a registerable sex offense, murder or human trafficking.

Eligible prisoners would be allowed to earn no more than two years or 20 percent of their overall sentence, whichever is less time.

One of the bills’ sponsors, state Representative Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian), said the bills are intended to reduce recidivism, or re-offending.

“This is an opportunity for Michigan to help increase our public safety and reduce crimes and help victims by reducing recidivism through providing incentives for rehabilitation,” she said.

The package requires that victims are notified if their offender is eligible to receive productivity credits toward sentence deductions.

Four bills are included in the package. The other bills’ sponsors include Representative Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), Representative Bryan Posthumus (R-Oakfield Township) and Representative Julie Calley (R-Portland).

The bills received support from the Alliance for Safety and Justice, the National Director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the West Michigan Policy Forum, and the Grand Rapids Chamber.

“Too often, incarcerated individuals are released back into society without the tools or support needed to have stable jobs and give back to their communities,” said Mike Jandernoa, West Michigan Policy Forum Policy Chair in a press release. “The Safer Michigan Act’s productivity credits program holds people accountable, while incentivizing them to participate in programming that is proven to improve outcomes, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety.”

Gongwer reports those opposing the package include the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and a number of prosecuting attorneys and sheriffs throughout the state.

The House Fiscal Agency said the bills carry an indeterminate fiscal impact on the state. The agency anticipates that the bills would reduce the prison population in the state, resulting in savings but those savings would not be realized until four to five years later.

The amount of savings would depend on numerous factors including:

  • the number of prisoners that participate in programming, 
  • the number of prisoners that successfully complete programming, 
  • the number of productivity and bonus productivity credits earned, how the number of credits earned affects prisoners’ overall lengths
  • the number of prisoner beds that ultimately could be closed.

The agency also predicts it would likely lead to initial costs from additional funding to potentially expand educational and vocational programs.

Roughly 60% of the prison population would be eligible to earn productivity credits toward sentence deductions. The agency estimates that if every eligible prisoner completed one program during their incarceration, 1,500 to 2,200 prisoner beds could be reduced. If the number of beds are actually reduced, the agency estimates savings of roughly $84.4 million in various fixed, administrative and operational costs – or roughly $70 million in marginal costs.

The package was brought before the House Rules and Competitiveness Committee on Thursday.

Sophia Kalakailo joined Michigan Radio in Sept. 2021 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism and minoring in documentary production. She previously interned at Bridge Michigan and was an editor for The State News and The Eastern Echo covering a wide range of topics.
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