A Michigan task force established by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has recommended a number of sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system, including lowering probation terms and reclassifying most traffic offenses as civil infractions.
The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which was established by Whitmer in May, released its final report Friday along with a set of 18 recommendations to be considered by the Legislature.
“With the task force’s work, Michigan is on a path to reform that makes our state safer, stronger, and more effective in achieving equal justice for all,” said Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack, who served as co-chair of the task force with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. “From start to finish, the diverse members of this task force inspired me with their shared commitment to find common ground and to deliver common sense solutions to make Michigan a national leader in safety and justice.”
The report calls for shortening the maximum probation terms for “most felonies” and establishing “new caps” on technical violations. The task force recommends a five-year probation cap for felony sex offenses, and a three-year probation cap for all other felonies, excluding offenses ineligible for probation, with the possibility of a one-time, 12-month extension.
Other states are considering similar caps on probation, such as Minnesota, where the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission recently voted to cap probation terms for most felonies at five years. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to overhaul the state’s probation system by setting a cap of two-years on most felonies—a three-year decrease.
Additional recommendations in the report call for reducing the use of warrants in enforcing court appearances, reducing fine amounts for civil infractions, reducing arrests for failure to appear in court, abolishing the practice of billing people for their own incarceration, presumptively imposing sentences other than jail for non-serious misdemeanors and felonies, and ending the suspension of driver’s licenses for actions unrelated to safe driving.
“Now that we have clear data and information about the state of Michigan’s jail and pretrial system, we can begin to take a more thoughtful approach to ensure our policies meet the needs of all who come into contact with that system,” Gilchrist said in a statement. “The policy recommendations that we have outlined will provide people with a much healthier chance of success here in Michigan, and I’m ready to work with the Legislature to codify them into law.”
The report was delivered Tuesday to House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), according to a press release.
“Government exists in order to secure the constitutional rights of our citizens, and that is why reforming our criminal justice system to protect those rights from excesses is exactly the sort of work we should be making a priority in the state Capitol,” said Chatfield. “We have made significant progress in reforming our criminal justice system in recent years, but there is much more we can do to protect the rights, freedoms and safety of every single Michigan resident.”
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