In Michigan, time served in prison can vary greatly from sentence length

How much of a prison sentence someone serves in Michigan and the factors that shape that outcome are highlighted in a new report released by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).

In looking at 39 states, the report found that: 66% of people entering prison in Michigan have a sentence of 10 years or more - the highest percentage among all states.

(Note: States with a high proportion of people serving long sentences do not necessarily have more punitive criminal justice systems.)

In Michigan, the average sentence length for those with long sentences is 20 years but average time served among this group is 5.3 years.  

Officials in Michigan have more discretion to reduce time served compared to some states. If those back-end factors were eliminated and people served a longer portion of their sentence, the state’s prison population could increase by more than 300%.  

Among all incarcerated people, the average sentence length is 14.76 years and an average of 4.24 years is served.

The analysis was prepared for CCJ’s Task Force on Long Sentences, which is examining the impact of prison sentences of 10 years or more and will release its recommendations next month.  
Among other key findings in the report:  

The difference between what someone is sentenced to and what they serve varies greatly across the country and even within states depending on the crime.

The reason? Differences in the laws and policies governing prison release.  

Back-end factors such as sentence credit discounts and the tendencies of parole boards (more or less generous with releases) are among the key factors affecting time served.  

Those factors vary by state, and depend in part on whether a state/jurisdiction has a “determinate” sentencing system (no discretionary parole release) or an “indeterminate” system (discretionary parole release).

People serving sentences in states w/highly determinate sentencing systems spend, on average, nearly 3x as long in prison as those serving long sentences in states w/highly indeterminate systems. Michigan has more discretion in determining time served.


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