Forum Highlights Justice Reinvestment Initiative in Michigan

Screenshot 2014-08-18 17.08.22Nearly 100 criminal justice stakeholders came together in Lansing recently as part of a Michigan Law Revision Commission (MLRC) forum to address challenges in Michigan’s sentencing and criminal justice systems.

The July 1 event, “Sentencing and Justice Reinvestment Policy,” provided an opportunity to discuss policy options in the state, as well as to receive public comments on the Council of State Governments Justice Center’s (CSG Justice Center) report, “Applying a Justice Reinvestment Approach to Improve Michigan’s Sentencing System.” With one out of every five state dollars currently spent on corrections, the report offers Michigan areas for policy development to decrease corrections costs and reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

“The opportunity for collaborative action by the Legislature on these critical issues should not be missed,” said MLRC Vice Chair Tony Derezinski. “The dialogue started today will better inform lawmakers about the best and most viable policy options for our state.”

In 2013, the CSG Justice Center applied a “justice reinvestment” approach to review Michigan’s sentencing guidelines and the impact on the criminal justice system. Over the period of a year, the CSG Justice Center staff analyzed 7.5 million individual data records, representing more than 200,000 individuals within 10 state databases, and had hundreds of conversations with criminal justice stakeholders from across the state. (Data analyzed included criminal arrest histories; felony sentencing; prison admissions and releases; probation and parole supervision; risk assessments and community corrections programming; and parole release decisions.) After completing its analysis and working extensively with Michigan’s stakeholders, the CSG Justice Center’s findings indicated that the state can (1) improve its sentencing system to achieve more consistency and predictability in outcomes, (2) stabilize and lower costs for the state and counties, and (3) direct resources to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

“From the beginning of this project, I have felt it was imperative that we evaluate and understand every aspect of our criminal justice system,” said Dan Heyns, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.  “I was happy to participate in today’s forum, to hear different perspectives on these important issues, and work together to identify solutions that will increase public safety and lower costs to taxpayers.”

During the forum, CSG Justice Center staff facilitated three panel discussions focused on the topics of prison sentences, local sanctions (jail and probation), and resources to reduce recidivism. The panelists represented a wide range of stakeholders, including sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections staff, victim advocates, and business leaders.

“Today, we began having the necessary and difficult conversations with each other to make progress towards fixing our system,” said Representative Joseph Haveman (R-Ottawa County).  “Thanks to the efforts of the MLRC and CSG, we have a year’s worth of data and stakeholder-driven analysis to guide our next steps.”

In August, the MLRC and the CSG Justice Center collected the results of their joint survey of state criminal justice system stakeholders and interested members of the public on the findings and policy options outlined in the CSG Justice Center report. After reviewing the survey results and incorporating feedback from the forum, the MLRC expects to issue its own report to the legislature with recommendations for policy changes in the fall.