Task force to examine jail, pretrial detention system

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered a bipartisan review of Michigan’s jail and pretrial detention system, saying the inmate population has nearly tripled over 35 years while the crime rate is the lowest in a half-century.

The Democrat signed an executive order creating a 21-member task force and said “something needs to be addressed here.”

“As a state, we have to be clear about who is in our jails and why. And right now, we lack the statewide data and oversight that we need,” she said at a Wednesday news conference.

The panel will be led by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and will include appointees from all three branches of state government, along with county sheriffs and commissioners responsible for operating and funding local jails.

It will meet at least six times and issue a final report by January, in hopes of spurring the passage of bills in 2020. The charge: develop an “ambitious, innovative and thorough” set of recommendations to expand alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and lengths of stay, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice system, according to the order.

The Pew Charitable Trusts has committed $1 million toward the project and will provide assistance compiling and analyzing data.

The initiative also has the backing of Republican legislative leaders, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and groups representing sheriffs and counties.

It was announced the same week that the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit alleging that the cash bail system in Detroit’s 36th District Court — one of the busiest in the country — discriminates against poor defendants. Lawmakers are considering changes to cash bail policies statewide.

Gilchrist said people are unnecessarily sitting in jail for having a suspended driver’s license or being too poor to make bail, and it hurts their job prospects and kids whose parents are locked up.
People are spending countless hours and money defending themselves “while others simply get a slap on the wrist for the same or similar violations,” he said.

McCormack said the task force will look at the system from “30,000 feet.” There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that more harm than good is being done when it comes to jail and pretrial incarceration, she said.

“Being poor often means spending more nights in jail, and more nights in jail often means losing a job, losing housing, losing child custody among many other things,” McCormack said.

Michigan Association of Counties Executive Director Stephan Currie welcomed the analysis of jails that are located in 81 of 83 counties, crediting the project for putting the state and counties on equal footing after past disagreements between state and local leaders over proposed criminal justices changes.

“We’d like to spend less on jails and more on community investments, less on incarceration and more on mental health and addiction services, less on locking up members of our own communities and more on connecting them with high-paying and steady employment opportunities,” he said.
 

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