Snyder proposes anti-crime, prison reforms

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver a major speech Monday in Detroit on reforming criminal justice policies in Michigan, from reducing sentences for certain crimes to providing better rehabilitation for ex-convicts.

The Republican governor is scheduled to give the speech at 3 p.m. at Goodwill Industries in Detroit, where the nonprofit works with first-time and second-time prisoners, among others, to improve their education levels and work skills to re-enter the community.

Snyder said Monday he's not pursuing sentencing reform simply to thin the state's 43,000-inmate prison population.

"That's not the goal at all," Snyder said after an event in East Lansing. "Sometimes people portray it as that, but again this is evidence-based, this is based on science and thoughtfulness to say what is the best outcome to make sure we are protecting our citizens, we are punishing people appropriately. But most of these people are coming back into society, not many are staying the system their whole life."

The governor added: "So we should be thoughtful about making sure they come back and are successful as possible, because that will hopefully prevent them from creating more crime."

Snyder's proposals will look at the criminal justice system "holistically," spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Sunday.

"Sentencing reform is definitely one part of that," Wurfel said. "So is looking at and addressing root causes of criminal behavior and ensuring a strong pathway with opportunities for training and jobs for re-entry into our communities and ensuring low recidivism — all while making sure we are protecting and enhancing public safety."

The Republican-run Legislature last year worked on a package of bills that called for a state commission to adjust tough sentencing policies adopted in 1998 that crowded prisons and sharply increased corrections spending. The legislation was aimed at reducing crime while reining in the state's $2 billion prison budget through sentencing, parole and probation reforms.

The vision was for the number of prisoners to decline over time and for all released prisoners to receive supervision. But the bills stalled in the lame-duck Legislature in December.

Senate majority Republicans rejected two bills intended to reduce the inmate population through parole reforms — after GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette urged them to do so.

A House package that was approved and sent to the Senate was significantly "gutted," said former state Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, last year's term-limited House Appropriations Committee chairman, because of opposition from Schuette and county sheriffs.

The legislation originally called for "presumptive parole" of prisoners who had served their minimum sentences and had a high probability of not committing new crimes, based on a scoring system used by Department of Corrections officials and the state parole board.

The House-passed version of that provision contained specific reasons why inmates still couldn't get parole at the end of their minimum sentences.

They included "objective evidence" of harm to a victim that wasn't available when he or she was sentenced or threats of harm upon his release; DNA evidence linking him or her to "an unadjudicated criminal violation"; if the inmate's release "would otherwise be barred by law"; he or she had a pending felony charge; or there was request by a prosecutor that incarceration continue.

Haveman's legislation was based on recommendations from a study conducted by the Council of State Governments published in May 2014.

"There's still a lot good recommendations there and we should continue talking about those," Snyder said Monday.

The amended version also said the new parole policies apply only to new inmates sent to state prisons after the legislation takes effect.

The Michigan Sheriffs' Association opposed the legislation because it feared Haveman's bill would cram county jails with more inmates and leave counties stuck with the costs.

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