Michigan Supreme Court launches pretrial pilot program

The Michigan Supreme Court has launched a pretrial pilot program aimed at easing the burden of bail bonds for defendants and reducing jail costs, officials announced Thursday.

The program was introduced in five district courts, including two in Metro Detroit: 31st District Court in Hamtramck and 41B District Court in Clinton Township, administrators said in a statement.

The other participating sites are Isabella County Trial Court in Mount Pleasant, 67th District Court in Flint and 94th District Court in Escanaba, according to the release.

The State Court Administrative Office, the administrative arm of the Michigan Supreme Court, is helping implement the effort. The Crime and Justice Institute is providing technical assistance with data collection.

The program involves a pretrial risk assessment tool designed to help judges make bond decisions by using statistically validated predictors of pretrial risk, the Supreme Court said.

“No Michigan residents should be sitting in jail just because they can’t afford to pay their bail,” said Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack. “Our goal is to help judges make bond decisions that protect rights, enhance public safety, strengthen communities and save money.”

The initiative coincides with advocates and officials seeking reforms statewide and across the country on the bail bond system.

In Michigan, which depends on the system as the foundation of its pretrial release procedure. 

In a 2015 address, Gov. Rick Snyder noted that 60 percent of jail inmates statewide have not been convicted of a crime but still were incarcerated, despite most criminal offenses allowing for bail, the Mackinac Center reported.

Officials estimate it costs nearly $75 a day to detain a pretrial defendant, costing taxpayers nationwide nearly $14 billion a year.

The Michigan State Court Administrative Office issued a memo in 2016 urging judges to adhere more closely to court rules directing them to release inmates on personal recognizance if possible and only impose bail when truly necessary, according to the center.

In 2017, McCormack convened a group to address problems with cash bail and explore possible reforms, and the Mackinac Center has also gathered a coalition to study the issue.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.