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  • Writer's pictureAttorney Michael Horowitz

Governor Whitmer announces new task force to address criminal justice reform.

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Governor Whitmer’s office issued a press release dated April 17, 2019 about the governor’s new executive order to aimed at reform of the criminal justice system. The executive order creates a 21-person “Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.”

Interestingly, the executive order begins by noting that while crime is at a 50-year low, the jail populations have tripled over the last 35 years:

Little statewide data exist to account for who is booked into local jails, how long they stay, and why. National sources show Michigan jail populations tripling in the last 35 years. With crime now at a 50-year low, hundreds of thousands are still admitted to Michigan jails every year, and people are staying in jail longer on average than before. Furthermore, roughly half of the people held in Michigan’s jails on any given day have not been convicted of a crime and are constitutionally presumed innocent as they await trial.

While the task force is only advisory and its actions are limited to making recommendations, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission was created by legislation in 2013 after a similar advisory commission recommended improvements to the state’s legal system.

The Task Force shall act in an advisory capacity with the goal of developing ambitious, innovative, and thorough recommendations for changes in state law, policy, and appropriations to expand alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and length of stay, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Michigan’s justice systems.
The Task Force’s recommendations shall be guided by the following objectives:
(1) To expand jail alternatives for those who can be managed in the community;
(2) To safely reduce jail admissions, length of stay, and associated costs . . . .

The composition of the 21-person task force appears designed to capture a broad spectrum of community and institutional voices. The list, which obviously took a good deal of brain storming, includes:

  • The lieutenant governor

  • The attorney general or the attorney general’s designated representative

  • A community member who is a crime survivor or victim advocate

  • A representative of community corrections or pretrial services

  • A formerly incarcerated person appointed from a list of one or more nominees submitted by the Michigan State Appellate Defender Office

  • A public defender or a criminal defense attorney for indigent clients

  • A community leader or a business leader

  • A faith leader or a community leader

  • A county prosecutor

  • A police chief

  • A member of a board of county commissioners from a county with a population of 200,000 or more

  • A member of a board of county commissioners from a county with a population of less than 200,000

  • A county sheriff or county jail administrator from a county with a population of 200,000 or more

  • A county sheriff or county jail administrator from a county with a population of less than 200,000

  • The Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court

  • A circuit court judge

  • A district court judge

  • Senate members from each of the majority and minority parties

  • House members from each of the majority and minority parties

Notably, this list fails to include a member of the defense bar that represents private, rather than indigent clients.

Criminal justice reform is certainly having its moment. With states nationwide passes various of levels of reform and organizations like Real Justice PAC swinging state elections, it appears that the country may have finally realized that mass incarceration is not a good thing. Better late than never, because:

The United States has the highest prison and jail population (2,121,600 in adult facilities in 2016), and the highest incarceration rate in the world (655 per 100,000 population in 2016). According to the World Prison Population List (11th edition) there were around 10.35 million people in penal institutions worldwide in 2015. he US had 2,173,800 prisoners in adult facilities in 2015.
That means the US held 21.0% of the world's prisoners in 2015, even though the US represented only around 4.4 percent of the world's population in 2015.

That’s 21% of the entire world’s prison population! And when you look at 655 per 100,000 people, that figure appears to include children and the elderly. If you controlled for the typical jail/prison-aged population, that ratio would obviously be much, much higher.

Hopefully the governor’s task force is another step in the right direction.


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