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Governor's jail task force recommends changes to Michigan’s criminal justice system

Hands gripping jail cell bars

A special task force on jails and pretrial incarceration handed over 18 policy recommendations Tuesday to leadership in the state Legislature.

Since 1975 the average daily population in Michigan jails has nearly tripled and that’s something the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration is trying to change.

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) says passing criminal justice reform is the number one priority.

“The fact is this. We are going to be tackling many issues in 2020. But I think paramount to all of them in importance is reforming our criminal justice system,” he says.

The proposed actions would overhaul Michigan’s criminal justice system.

Recommendations include: diverting people with behavioral health and substance use problems from jails and shortening maximum probation terms for most felonies.

When the group voted on the recommendations last week, Attorney General Dana Nessel was the only member to abstain. Chief Justice Bridget McCormack says she’s hopeful they can sway the state’s top lawyer.

“Abstaining means not voting. She did not vote. But she did not vote against it, that’s my understanding. I think we’ll get her vote,” she says.

Nessel said she voted to abstain because she was worried about the costs the proposed changes would force on communities and the investment in victim services wasn’t enough.

The group didn’t put a price on what the proposed changes would cost. Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist says it’s lawmaker’s responsibility to figure out the vehicles and cost for the reforms.

“We did not ascribe a price tag. We said the investment needs to happen, but it’s up to the appropriations process to determine what that level is going to be,” he says.

The task force, chaired by Gilcrhist and McCormack, will be around through September to counsel lawmakers on policy before it dissolves.

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Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.
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