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Ballot initiative aims for repeal of Michigan Truth in Sentencing law

woman stirs giant vat of oatmeal
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio
An inmate at the Women's Huron Correctional Facility working in the kitchen.

Advocates for changes to prison sentencing are trying again to repeal Michigan's Truth in Sentencing law.

The last ballot initiative in 2020 failed to get enough signatures, largely due to pandemic restrictions on public gatherings in place at the time.

Truth in Sentencing requires inmates to serve their full minimum sentence before they can seek parole. In many other states, prisoners can reduce their minimum sentences with so-called "good time," with good behavior or participation in educational or behavioral programs.

Southfield resident Kira Lee is the founder of Black Women Worldwide. The group is part of the coalition to repeal the law.

Lee said Truth in Sentencing takes hope from inmates and discourages them from doing everything they can to learn how to make better decisions upon release from prison.

"Which was the point of rehabilitation," she said. "If all we use is punishment, negative reinforcement, we're investing in negative outcomes."

Lee said there's an abundance of research showing that longer sentences do not improve public safety. And it costs about $40,000 a year to put one person behind bars, she said, money that could be better spent on parole programs that reduce recidivism and increase employment among returning citizens.

She said Michigan should follow the example of other states that have already repealed their truth in sentencing laws.

"The current system has us leading the world in citizens that are locked up, and our crime rates are no lower for it, so if we just follow data, the mass incarceration system in place is not working," said Lee.

The ballot initiative needs to gather about 340,000 signatures by May 1st.

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan does not support repealing the Truth in Sentencing law.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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