Safer with a smarter criminal justice system
Michigan’s criminal justice system needs modernizing. It’s time to take action with smart justice reforms that break the cycle of incarceration and ensure that the safety of the public is always the top priority.
Half of Michigan’s prison population is made up of parole and probation violators, while the national average is just 30 percent. In addition, more than 70 percent of prisoners have known substance abuse struggles that contribute to their criminal activity. Michigan spends too much time and resources putting people behind bars and not enough on ensuring prisoners are rehabilitated and prepared for life after prison.
Of the 42,000 individuals currently incarcerated in Michigan’s prison system, roughly 38,000 will eventually be returning to our communities. For this reason, Michigan must refocus our prison system on meaningful rehabilitation, not just punishment.
When positive intervention is provided early in an offender’s criminal career, it is more likely that the individual will be able to change that behavior. The result: safer communities, fewer victims and, ultimately, less cost to society. Good work has been started by the specialized problem-solving courts across the state and through rehabilitation and education efforts of the corrections system, but there is much more that can be done.
I am proud to be leading a bipartisan Senate effort to introduce a criminal justice reform package focused on breaking down the barriers that separate the corrections system, the Department of Health and Human Services, the court system and more.
We start by placing more attention toward rehabilitating younger offenders early on using proven strategies with a goal of reducing recidivism. Increased use of the consent calendar, or informal hearings, would give at-risk young people a chance to pay their debt to society without the scar of a criminal record limiting their ability to attend college or secure a job.
Additionally, we encourage separate housing for 18- to 22-year-old offenders, who are a high risk for future incarceration. Tailored programming would then be delivered to serve the unique needs of young offenders.
Probation reforms would allow judges to shorten an individual’s probation term as a result of good behavior. We also propose expanding and reclassifying our existing swift and sure sanctioning program as a specialty court modeled after a Hawaiian program. The Hawaiian court delivered results in diverting high risk probationers as well as reducing crime, drug use and overall jail time.
Reform should also encourage partnerships beneficial for prison services and streamline access to prisons for volunteers who are ready, willing and able to give of their time and talents to ultimately benefit our communities.
Parole is an important step in the rehabilitation process. When prisoners are given a chance to rejoin society, we expect them to fulfill a few requirements, such as reporting to a supervisor. Our reform would temporarily remove parole absconders from public assistance, preventing parolees who run from the law from receiving taxpayer-funded benefits.
With a smarter, data-driven approach, Michigan can be better at measuring what works. We are standardizing the definition of recidivism throughout Michigan law and enacting better ways to track and evaluate recidivism data.
Our goal should be to break the cycle of crime while reducing the cost of our criminal justice system. Refocusing our system on rehabilitation and reform of prisoners is good for public safety and a smarter use of taxpayer dollars. This effort will make our communities safer and more whole while freeing up valuable resources for other important priorities in Michigan, such as improving education and infrastructure in our state.
State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, represents Michigan’s 21st District.