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Bipartisan coalition calls for passage of criminal justice bill package before end of this year

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A politically diverse coalition of advocacy groups has urged the Michigan Legislature to pass an 18 bill package of criminal justice measures before December's lame duck legislative session ends. 

The 18 bills stem from recommendations for change made in January by the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. 

Representatives of the advocacy groups said Thursday that the bills would save money, improve public safety, and address racial injustice by providing alternatives to jail for minor, non-violent offenses.

"Thousands of Michiganders every year are held in jail without a trial or a conviction over minor infractions like traffic violations, " said Kimberly Buddin, policy counsel at the ACLU of Michigan. "More than half the people in jail on any given day have not been convicted of a crime but they're simply waiting for trial, often over traffic violations like unpaid tickets, and this legislation will address that."

"This legislation means safer communities and safer residents," Buddin said.  "It means equal justice, and it means advancing racial justice in our legal system."

"Jailing residents for minor traffic and other violations costs Michiganders their jobs, breaks apart families, separates good parents from their children, and makes it more difficult for the accused to pay outstanding fines, child support or otherwise contribute to their communities," said David Guenthner of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

According to members of the coalition, the bills have strong bipartisan support, including from Republican legislative leaders.

"Believe it or not, progressives and conservatives, we can find that common ground, " said Annie Patnaude, state director for Americans for Prosperity.  "And when it comes to criminal justice reforms here in Michigan, we have."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield could not be reached for comment about the likelihood of the bills' passage before the end of this year.

Changes to the state's cash bail system, identified as a high priority by civil rights groups and by protesters against systemic racism in the criminal justice system, are not included in this package of bills.  

"I would anticipate a conversation about bail next year," said John Cooper, executive director of Safe and Just Michigan. "But because there's such limited time left in this session, we're really laser focused on the policy that's been introduced, that's developed bipartisan consensus, and we want to emphasize how important it is to get this across the finish line in December."

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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