Michigan moving to limit sentences for minor offen...

Michigan moving to limit sentences for minor offenses as part of criminal justice reform push

The bipartisan effort comes after a state task force found the state's incarcerated population had skyrocketed even as crime declined.

michigan capitol building lansing

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Senate approved bipartisan legislation Thursday that would limit incarceration for minor offenses, another step as the Legislature moves to change criminal justice laws in the closing days of session.

The state’s incarcerated population has nearly tripled over the last four decades even as total crime has significantly decreased, according to U.S. Justice Department. The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration released legislative recommendations in January, including the legislation approved by the Senate Thursday.

One group of bills looks to limit the practice of allowing or requiring the secretary of state to revoke licenses for parking violations, failing to pay fines or other offenses not related to dangerous driving.

The current system of taking away licenses for offenses such as not paying fines criminalizes poverty, Alex Rossman, external affairs director of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said in a news release.

The Senate approved legislation that would eliminate the 60-day mandatory minimum sentence and the 90-day repeat offense sentence for operating a vehicle without registration. Certain offenses surrounding operating a motor vehicle while impaired would no longer have mandatory sentences and in some instances allow for court-mandated drug and alcohol treatment programs instead of imprisonment.

Bills would eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing for parents who fail to comply with the state’s compulsory school attendance and individuals who fraudulently fake certificates or college transcripts to become employed.

State Sen. Sylvia Santana, a Detroit Democrat who has sponsored bills that would limit pretrial incarcerations, said the legislative effort will have a meaningful change for the state.

“A lot of people because they can’t make the bail, or they couldn’t pay the ticket, they’re sitting in a jail and not being able to take care or sustain their families during that time. So I’m really excited that this legislation is passing today,” she said.

Under approved legislation, various hunting violations would no longer have mandatory minimum sentences, including the possession or taking of certain game and failing to stop a vehicle of which lights are being used for hunting when a uniformed peace officer or marked vehicle with flashing lights or siren is requesting so.

Throwing a rock or a brick at a train would no longer have a mandatory minimum sentence, as well as certain misdemeanor offenses of tampering with railroad property.

Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.