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Whitmer Signs Jail Alternative Bills

Michigan Executive Office of the Governor
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a press conference Thursday, December 3, 2020 as Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist stands behind her.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a series of new laws Monday that are designed to send fewer people to jail for non-violent and low-level offenses, and to help people who run into trouble with the law get their lives on track.

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist co-chaired the task force that recommended the reforms. He says, in Michigan, a growing number of people are being sent to jail even though crime rates overall have been going down.

“People who’ve been put into jail for things like having suspended driver’s licenses and not being able to pay fines,” he said, “People who were in jail pre-trial, not even having had a trial, being in jail for days, weeks, or months and having complete disruption to their family lives and not being able to keep their jobs.” 

Gilchrist says that also means a growing burden on taxpayers who have to pay the costs of incarcerating people who don’t pose a risk to the public. The bills were adopted by large, bi-partisan majorities. Gilchrist says that’s a positive sign for continuing this work with the new Legislature.

The new laws will make it easier to clear the records of people who committed crimes as juveniles or were found guilty of low-level offenses. The package also repeals laws that can stop people with records from being certified in many professions.

“It undoes some outdated laws that were perhaps too stringent, too heavy-handed for the actual nature of the crime,” said Alex Rossman of the Michigan League for Public Policy, a liberal advocacy organization. “And then it also does a really good job of helping individuals move on from their past mistakes and get back on their feet economically.” 

Once the new laws take effect later this year, police officers will also have more discretion to issue appearance tickets instead of putting people in jail for offenses like driving with an expired license.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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