Bills to limit incarceration advance in Michigan Legislature

Posted at 10:19 AM, Dec 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-04 10:19:58-05

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s Senate on Thursday approved measure that would reform the state’s criminal justice system by limiting unnecessary incarcerations and allowing law enforcement more discretion in handling arrests.

One bill focuses on keeping those with minor violations, such as failure to appear in court, out of jail by eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing in certain cases. It also would allow law enforcement to issue a citation and release from custody a person who has been arrested without a warrant for a misdemeanor or ordinance violation.

Defendants who fail to appear for a court hearing for the first time in their case would be allowed 48 hours to appear voluntarily without a warrant being issued if certain conditions are met.

The repercussions for failing to appear are a heavy burden for many, said Sen. Sylvia Santana, who sponsored the legislation. The Legislature has heard for two years from jail officials and others involved in criminal justice about inefficiencies and shortcomings.

“We were locking people up for minor violations like failure to appear ... and because of that, people were losing out on economic stability,” the Detroit Democrat said. “Today, we are taking the opportunity to make that wrong, right and in addition to that, make sure that we are not using dollars and resources unnecessarily.”

If there are reasonable grounds to utilize non-jail sentencing such as fines or community service for misdemeanors, the court would go the non-jail route, under the bill.

Defendants who have completed half of their probation would be eligible for early discharge under the legislation. Inability to pay the fees and fines in their probation would not make them ineligible if there were good-faith efforts to pay.

The other bill approved by the Senate looks to protect juveniles.

The legislation would require a court to promptly notify the state health department when a juvenile is taken into custody for violating certain court orders. Within 24 hours of a juvenile being detained in a secure facility, that facility would be required to ensure a mental health professional interviews the juvenile to find out immediate needs and submit an assessment to the court within 48 hours.

Courts would no longer be permitted to order a child who ran away from home into custody before getting a hearing. Courts would be required to hold a hearing to determine whether a juvenile violated a court order and where to place the juvenile.