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Petition drive to repeal Michigan’s 1998 “truth-in-sentencing” law plans launch in early 2022

Hands gripping jail cell bars

A petition drive to repeal Michigan’s 1998 “truth-in-sentencing” law expects to begin signature gathering early next year. If the law is repealed, prisoners could earn “good time” credits that could shorten their minimum sentences.

The campaign organizers say the current law keeps people who’ve rehabilitated themselves in prison when they no longer pose a threat to society. They also say a bipartisan legislative package to lift some more onerous aspects of truth-in-sentencing does not go far enough.

“What the heck incentive is there for someone to improve themselves in the penal system when it doesn’t even matter? They’re still going to serve this minimum sentence,” said Kenneth Whittaker of Michigan United.

The organization includes civil rights and faith-based groups. The Reverend Dale Milford is a prison minister and one of the campaign's leaders.

“Keeping people year after year, longer and longer in prison does not reduce the recidivism rate, ok? It doesn’t matter whether they spend five years or 15 years,” he said. “In fact, the recidivism rate is a straight line after a very short period of years.”

The truth-in-sentencing law bans the use of “good behavior” credits to reduce minimum sentences. The initiative was adopted by Michigan voters in 1998. It would take another initiative or super-majority votes in the Legislature to change it.

The repeal initiative can expect pushback.

“One thing we can never forget is that in the criminal justice system, the only person who never asked to be there is the victim,” said Eaton County Prosecutor Douglas Lloyd. He said “truth in sentencing” provides certainty to crime victims.

“They want to know what is the amount of time the individual is going to be there so they can feel safe,” he said. “And I think that’s fair to the victims so they have that ability to know that, as well.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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