Governor Gretchen Whitmer today signed into law a bipartisan package of criminal justice reform bills, resulting from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, that will prioritize alternatives to jail, expand officer discretion to issue appearance tickets rather than make arrests, and reshape penalties for traffic offenses.
“As a former prosecutor, I recognize how critical it is to take steps toward a smarter and more equitable justice system that not only saves taxpayer money, but keeps people in their communities,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “Over the last two years, we’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the aisle to make Michigan a national leader on criminal justice reform. I want to thank Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, along with the bipartisan members of the task force, for their leadership in this effort. Today proves that it is possible to make tremendous progress to improve our state when we work together to get things done.”
The 20 bills, carried by a diverse group of Republican and Democratic state senators and representatives and passed with overwhelming support, are based on policy recommendations from the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, a group of criminal justice experts and key stakeholders that was led by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II and Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, which conducted a year-long study of Michigan’s jails and engaged input from the public in a series of meetings statewide.
The Task Force found that low-level infractions, like driving on a suspended license, violations of probation, and other misdemeanors, were exhausting public safety resources and impacting hundreds of thousands of Michiganders each year without producing safer communities. Jail populations had tripled in less than 40 years, growing particularly fast in rural communities, and Michigan law provided little to no guidance on when jail alternatives should be the preferred or presumed intervention.
“This legislation is precisely the fix so many people of our state need, taking tangible steps to break down barriers that have only served to place individuals under further strain as they work to get their lives and livelihoods back on track,” said state Representative Tenisha Yancey. “With House Bill 5851 being signed into law, driver’s license suspensions or revocations will no longer be wielded over Michiganders as a means to sanction offenses that had nothing to do with driving factors. I’m proud to have been a part of this vital package, and look forward to continuing to advocate for further progress in reforming our state’s criminal justice system in the new term.”
The 20 bills passed by the legislature form a complementary approach that aims to shift individuals away from jail unless they pose a threat to public safety. Throughout the last year, the bills were vetted by lawmakers and refined with extensive input from prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, crime victims, reform advocates, and members of the public.
The Task Force started working in July 2019 on measures the state of Michigan could take to safely reduce jail populations and expand alternatives to incarceration. Their recommendations and the resulting bipartisan package of bills were informed by dozens of stakeholder interviews and roundtables, testimony from hundreds of people across the state, 10 years of statewide arrest and court data and three years of individual-level data from a large and diverse sample of county jails.
Together the bills seek to expand the use of jail alternatives and reserve jail for public safety risks. The bills eliminate driver’s license suspensions and criminal penalties for some traffic offenses; expand officer discretion to use appearance tickets instead of custodial arrests; use probation, fines, and community service as sentences for low-level crimes; and limit jail time for those who violate the rules of supervision. The bills include:
- HB 5846, Rep. Bronna Kahle (R, District 57), HB 5847, Rep. Luke Meerman (R, District 88), HB 5849, Rep. Mike Mueller (R, District 51), HB 5850, Rep. Rebekah Warren (D, District 55), HB 5851, Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D, District 1), HB 5852, Rep. Lori Stone (D, District 28), HB 6235, Rep. Cynthia Neeley (D, District 34), and HCR 29, Rep. Beau LaFave (R, District 108) eliminates license suspension for violations of the law unrelated to dangerous driving.
- HB 5853, Rep. Bronna Kahle (R, District 57) reclassifies many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions.
- HB 5854, Rep. Tim Sneller (D, District 50), HB 5855, Rep. Tommy Brann (R, District 77), HB 5856, Rep. Steven Johnson (R, District 72), HB 5857, Rep. Jack O’Malley (R, District 101), and HB 5844 Rep. Joe Bellino (R, District 17) eliminates mandatory minimum jail sentences in the Motor Vehicle Code, School Code, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Railroad Code, and Public Health Code.
- SB 1046, Sen. Roger Victory (R, District 30) expands law enforcement discretion to issue citations for most misdemeanors and presumes citation in lieu of arrest in many cases.
- SB 1047, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D, District 18) ensures summonses are used for most first-time failures to appear and allows defendants to resolve low-level warrants without being arrested.
- SB 1048, Sen. Sylvia Santana (D, District 3) creates a presumption of a sentence other than jail for most misdemeanors and certain felonies.
- SB 1049, Sen. Stephanie Chang (D, District 1) expands eligibility for deferred judgment of guilt to 24- and 25-year-olds under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act.
- SB 1050, Sen. Michael MacDonald (R, District 10) reduces probation terms, tailors probation conditions to address risks and needs, and caps jail sanctions for technical probation violations.
- SB 1051, Sen. Ed McBroom (R, District 38) tailors parole conditions to address risks and needs.
Additional recommendations stemming from the Task Force report will be taken up for consideration in the next legislative session, potentially including bills related to pretrial release and behavioral health diversion from jails. The Task Force report can be found here: https://courts.michigan.gov/NewsEvents/Pages/DataDrivenJusticeSolutions.aspx