Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration

Legislative leaders with the Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force Co-Chairs on Jan. 14, 2020, as the recommendations are announced to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. (SBG/Mikenzie Frost)

Today, the bipartisan Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration delivered its first report to the state Legislature. The task force was formed in April 2019 by Executive Order of Gov. Whitmer to kickstart a bipartisan review of Michigan’s jail and court data in hopes to reduce jail admissions and length of stays and expand jail alternatives. 

This report was produced from over 9 months of data collection, expert analysis, and discussion. This includes the input of more than 150 people who attended five public hearings to share their views and experiences with the criminal justice system. 

The task force proposed 18 data-driven recommendations in an effort to make Michigan a “national leader” in criminal justice reform. Below are a few of the key recommendations made by the task force: 

Reducing the Number of Driver’s License Suspensions

In 2018, nearly 358,000 driver’s licenses were suspended in Michigan for failing to appear in court and failing to pay fines and fees. Testimony revealed that these suspensions take a heavy toll on families and employers, while using up limited public safety resources. 

To address this challenge, the Task Force recommended that license suspensions or revocations be limited to driving violations related to public safety–they should not occur for failure to pay fines or fees. They also recommended that several traffic offenses like driving with a suspended license (DWLS) be reclassified as civil infractions rather than misdemeanors. 

Reducing Arrests for Failure to Appear and Low-Level Crimes

Data mined by the Task Force revealed that while crime is at a 50-year low, Michigan jail populations have nearly tripled. Researchers also determined failing to appear in court is the most common reason for arrest. Understandably, this consumes substantial law enforcement resources that could otherwise be invested within communities. 

As a result, the Task Force recommends prohibiting arrest warrants for certain first-time failures to appear and developing innovative warrant resolution initiatives. It also recommends expanding officer discretion to issue appearance tickets in lieu of custodial arrests. 

Divert People with Behavioral Health Needs Away from the Justice System

Jail admissions screenings in several counties estimated nearly one quarter of those entering jails had a serious mental illness. Substance abuse was also prevalent in a vast majority of the jail population.  

Recognizing the underlying cause of criminal activity is sometimes best treated outside the criminal justice system, the Task Force made ambitious recommendations to deflect and divert certain individuals with behavioral health needs away from the justice system and into treatment. 

The recommendations also call for behavioral health crisis training for law enforcement, dispatch, and jail officers. Such training increases safety for both the individual and law enforcement while facilitating deflection. 

Establish Higher Thresholds for Financial and Non-Financial Pretrial Release Conditions

Nearly half of the 16,600 people in Michigan jails are pretrial detainees awaiting trial. In this regard, the Task Force heard expert testimony that when wealth is the deciding factor between pretrial release and detention, poor people may be denied the equal protection the U.S. Constitution requires. Pretrial incarceration also has negative effects on employment, housing, and families. 

Moreover, research has shown that imposing financial conditions for release are no more effective than release on recognizance for low risk defendants. To better safeguard the rights of defendants, the Task Force recommended creating a tiered statutory framework for pretrial release that presumes release on personal recognizance. 

This is unless the court makes an individualized determination that the person poses a significant risk of not appearing, absconding, or causing bodily harm to another person. 

Enhancing Protections and Services for Victims

The Task Force heard extensive testimony from crime survivors and victim advocates who noted support and resources for crime victims is lacking both during and after the criminal justice process. 

To address this need, the Task Force recommended significant new investments to expand domestic violence training for law enforcement and increased supportive services for victims, including counseling, shelter, and transitional housing. They also recommended developing steps to ensure the restitution process is transparent, efficient, and easy to navigate. Further, payment to victims must be more clearly prioritized over payment of other fines and fees. 

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

If your driver’s license was suspended for failing to appear in court and/or failing to pay fines and fees, you need an experienced driver’s license restoration attorney on your side to get your license back. With a 98% driver’s license restoration success rate, our team is more than ready to tackle your case today.