Governor signs changes in criminal justice law

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law a package of criminal justice bills that advocates say are intended to keep criminals from reoffending.

About 30 percent of Michigan’s 41,000 inmates return to prison within three years, and half have been locked up for parole or probation violations.

Combatting recidivism saves the government money and makes citizens safer, according to backers of the legislation, who note that 90 percent of prisoners are released into society.

Snyder signed the legislation at a Kalamazoo coffee shop that hires ex-offenders and helps them with life skills such as paying bills and managing stress.

A look at the laws:

PAROLE PENALTIES

By 2018, the state Department of Corrections will adopt a new program that will have progressively harsher penalties for violating the terms of parole, as opposed to sometimes automatically sending released inmates back to prison.

It must be implemented in at least the five counties with the most offenders under state supervision. Eligible parolees will have to consent to placement in the program.

Evidence-based graduated sanctions will be listed for the most common types of parole violations, such as failing to report and not using alcohol or drugs.

PROBATION LIMITS

Probation, the primary form of supervision for people convicted of a felony, also will be tweaked. Probationers who commit "technical" violations — not new crimes — will be incarcerated for no more than 30 days per violation. Judges explicitly will be allowed to reduce probationers' length of supervision for good behavior.

RECIDIVISM DEFINITION

Recidivism will be uniformly defined as anytime someone is rearrested, reconvicted or incarcerated again for a new crime or a probation or parole violation within three to five years.

Supporters say it is important to have a shared understanding of the term and to distinguish between those who commit new crimes and those who violate their probation or parole without breaking the law.

NO EMPLOYER INCENTIVE

The package initially had a Senate-backed bill that would have required the state to pay up to $7,200 to employers who hire ex-felons. But the measure stalled when the House amended it to allow the grants only if an ex-con fills a job that has been posted for at least six months.
 
NAME CHANGE?

The Legislature passed a resolution encouraging Snyder to change the name of the Department of Corrections to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to “more clearly articulate” the agency’s vision.

Spokesman Chris Gautz said the agency’s name will not be changed.

“We don't need to change our name to reflect what we are already doing,” he said, also citing the cost of changing signs at more than 130 facilities and offices and updating business cards.

OTHER BILLS

Other laws will force the Corrections Department to report the number of parole-eligible inmates who have not been released.

At the governor’s request, the parole board will more quickly review a reprieve, commutation or pardon based in part on a prisoner's medical condition.

Nonprofits and their officials can apply to provide re-entry services to prisoners such as counseling and giving information about job and housing placements. The agency will be barred from endorsing or sponsoring faith-based re-entry programs.

VETOES

Snyder vetoed two bills in the 20-bill package.

One would have required better data collection in the criminal justice system, but he expressed concern that the effort would be incomplete and costly without including all relevant state agencies and local governments.

He called for a new bill.

The other vetoed measure would have required the state to create a program under which prisoners might be housed in county jails. Snyder said his administration will not house its inmates in jails because they lack re-entry programming.

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