Commentary

New Legislature Takes Another Swing at Criminal Justice Reform

Lawmakers recognize more work needs to be done

Conventional wisdom says that if you’re trying for policy reforms, you had better get everything you want in the first attempt. Once the Michigan Legislature takes action on a certain topic, it considers the issue “fixed,” and its appetite to address other similar reforms greatly diminishes.

Well, maybe that’s true for some issues, but apparently not for criminal justice reform.

Michigan GOP lawmakers took their first swing at this topic in 2014, with a small package of bills aimed at reducing the size of the prison population. It didn’t pass, but every year since interest around this issue has grown. A wide-ranging, 18-bill package passed in 2017, and yet lawmakers are teeing up several impactful packages this year as well, including:

  • Bills to raise the age of adult criminal liability from 17 to 18, meaning that Michigan would no longer be among the four states that automatically prosecute 17-year-olds as adults and incarcerate them in adult jails and prisons. Prosecutors would retain their ability to try minors as adults if appropriate, but that would be the exception rather than the rule.
  • Proposals designed to reform various pretrial procedures, including the factors that judges must take into account when setting bail amounts, and whether police officers should be allowed to collect bail amounts from arrestees before they appear in court.
  • Reforms to require police to secure a conviction prior to taking ownership of private property through the use of civil asset forfeiture.

With these and other proposals garnering increased bipartisan support, it’s safe to say that this Legislature is not fully satisfied with previous reform efforts and is pushing the envelope for further changes. By and large, this positive momentum holds promise to make Michigan’s criminal justice system more fair, efficient and effective.