State Rep. Jason Wentworth said Michigan took a key step toward becoming a national leader in criminal justice reform this week as the Legislature received a report from the bipartisan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.
House Speaker Pro Tem Wentworth, Speaker Lee Chatfield and other state and county leaders announced the creation of the task force in April 2019 with a charge to review Michigan’s local court procedures and history to find the most important areas for reform. The report finalized this week includes a summary of their findings and their final recommendations.
“The work done by the task force has provided the Legislature with the data and information we need to make well-informed decisions and ensure our criminal justice system is working in a manner that makes our communities safer,” Wentworth said. “This report provides vital information about who is in our jails and what steps need to be taken to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated without compromising public safety.”
The task force determined justice system costs are the third largest county expenditure after spending on health, welfare, and public works. In 2017, county-level spending for public safety and courts was more $2 billion, with nearly one quarter spent on county jail and corrections costs, not including the costs of new jail construction or improvements.
By reducing jail admissions and increasing jail alternatives, the task force recommendations are designed to increase the efficiency of the justice system and allow public resources to be more effectively deployed to help victims and provide support and treatment for those with behavioral disorders.
Wentworth said one of the key recommendations within the report would reduce the number of driver’s license suspensions. In 2018, nearly 358,000 people had their driver’s licenses suspended in Michigan for failing to appear in court or failing to pay a fine.
“It’s counterproductive to penalize someone who can’t afford to pay a fine by taking away the driver’s license they need to get to and from their job,” Wentworth said.
In total, the report includes 18 data-driven recommendations. It can be viewed in its entirety here.