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Whitmer signs bills that make dramatic changes to state's criminal justice system

Hands gripping jail cell bars

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed bills into law Monday that make dramatic changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The new laws will make it easier to clear the records of people who committed crimes as juveniles or were found guilty of low-level offenses.

The package also repeals laws that can stop people with records from being certified in many professions.

Alex Rossman is with the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“It undoes some outdated laws that were perhaps too stringent, too heavy-handed for the actual nature of the crime. And then it also does a really good job of helping individuals move on from their past mistakes and get back on their feet economically,” says Rossman.

Police officers will also have more discretion to issue appearance tickets instead of putting people in jail for offenses like driving with an expired license.

The laws were the product of a bipartisan task force on criminal justice reform led by Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack.

Gilchrist says, in Michigan, a growing number of people are being sent to jail even though overall crime rates have been going down.

“People who’ve been put into jail for things like having suspended driver’s licenses and not being able to pay fines. People who were in jail pre-trial, not even having had a trial, being in jail for days, weeks, or months and having complete disruption to their family lives and not being able to keep their jobs,” he says.

Gilchrist says that also means a growing burden on taxpayers who have to pay the costs of incarcerating people who don’t have to go to jail.

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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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