Group pushes ballot initiative to restore Michigan prison credits, repeal law

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Delta Township — Petition organizers will try again to gather enough signatures for a ballot measure that would allow Michigan prisoners the chance to get time shaved off their sentence for good behavior.

The measure would repeal Michigan's Truth in Sentencing law, a prison rules change approved by voters in 1998 that repealed "good time credits" and imposed a mandatory minimum sentence that could be extended for misconduct. 

The Board of State Canvassers approved the petition's 100-word summary at its Monday meeting, clearing the way for the group to begin collecting signatures for the second time in two years. 

Last year's effort to collect signatures for the effort was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Petition organizers are pushing a measure the would allow Michigan prisoners the chance to get time shaved off their sentence for good behavior.

If Michigan United organizers can collect the requisite 347,047 valid signatures in the coming months, the new proposal could go before voters in 2022. 

Bishop Herman Starks of Christ's Truth International in Detroit said he "truly benefited" from the good time credit system that existed while he was in prison more than 30 years ago. Starks, who is now a criminal justice organizer for Michigan United, was 17 when he was incarcerated for a crime he said he didn't commit.

"It would have been just unbelievable to do straight time, especially for a wrongful incarceration," Starks said.

He argued the opportunities to cut prison time while getting an education or job skills would decrease both time spent in prison and recidivism. 

"Let’s ensure when they get out they have a reason not to reoffend, that they have skills to use when they get out," Starks said. 

The measure would establish credits that prisoners could earn to reduce their sentences for efforts such as holding employment while in prison, doing a training program, or earning a college degree or certificate. Under the proposal, prisoners who were minors or military veterans when they were sentenced could earn additional credits. 

The proposal would task the Michigan Department of Corrections with developing rules for disciplinary time and earned credits, and create a board to review earned credits and prisoner records.  

Starks was optimistic about the group's chances at getting the necessary signatures to put the question on the ballot. 

"There’s a shift in the atmosphere where people are making their voices heard — they're pushing the Legislature," he said. "It’s high time that we change how we deal with criminal activity in Michigan."