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Michigan Senate rolls out large prison and parole reform package

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

Michigan senators are making a big push for prison and parole reform this year.

Over 20 of the 52 bills introduced during session last week were about criminal justice changes.

Several of the bills focus on probation and parole violations. They would change penalties for probationers that commit technical probation violation and discontinue services to parole absconders.

Republican Senator Rick Jones is the main sponsor of a couple of the bills and a former sheriff. He said they have been working on the package for a while.

“The main reason is to make it a better system,” he said. “We want people put out that do not recidivate that find jobs and return as a citizen. And we want to save the state a lot of tax dollars.” 

One of the bills Senator Jones is spearheading would allow for inmates to earn time off for good behavior in prison if they complete judge-assigned programs.


“We hope that we can transfer this to prisons and get people to be more active with learning a trade, getting a high school diploma, taking the classes such as AA, drug abuse, anger management, that the judge orders,” he said. 

Jones says anytime you can give an inmate time off their sentence for good behavior is a good thing. Right now, inmates in jail can earn so-called "good time," but not inmates in prison. 

While most of the bills were introduced by Republicans, Democratic Senators Rebekah Warren and Bert Johnson also introduced some bills. 

Warren said the legislation package would not only save tax payers money, it would focus on rehabilitation. 


“We actually are trying to rehabilitate people and get them ready to be productive citizens again,” she said. “So some of it is work we’ve done for a long time – things that we know we need to change.  And it’s a place where good policy and financial savings can come together.”

Senator Warren is the main sponsor of a bill that would give a portion of the crime victims fund to child assessment centers.

A bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children and a bill to establish a jail bed savings program were also introduced. But they are not a part of the larger bill package.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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