Opinion | Current, former Republican Speakers seek Michigan jail reform

Lee Chatfield is the current Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives. Craig DeRoche was the Speaker of the House from 2005-2006 and is a Senior Vice President at Prison Fellowship Ministries. Jase Bolger was the Speaker of the House from 2011-2014 and is the founder of Tusker Strategies, LLC

Over the past 15 years, we have seen criminal justice reform and concern for the people’s constitutional rights grow and take root in Michigan first-hand. Thankfully, what used to be a highly-charged political issue has become a leading topic in our state Capitol and a strong bipartisan priority for state legislators.

But there is still much more work to be done. And that is why we are encouraged that a bipartisan group of state and county leaders this month jointly announced the members of a new initiative, the Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.

The Task Force will start by evaluating the broken fundamentals of our system. We have to question whether incarceration protects families in Michigan or whether it tears them apart instead. We have to look into whether our public safety system builds stability through less crime and addiction or whether it merely continues the problem and creates barriers to employment and opportunity.

Over the past few years, we have seen conservative-led efforts to reform the Michigan criminal justice system protect and strengthen the constitutional rights of Michigan’s citizens. They’ve lowered incarceration rates while crime has continued to fall, and Michigan’s residents today live in the safest neighborhoods we’ve had in the past half century. Criminal justice reform delivers results.

Two-thirds of the states, most with Republican-led legislatures like ours, have seen simultaneous drops in crime and imprisonment. Nationally, violent crime is the lowest it’s been since the mid-1970s, and efforts in the states have inspired President Trump and conservative congressional leaders to pass the First Step Act, perhaps the most significant federal criminal justice reform in modern history. This is a growing movement, and for good reason.

But these efforts have focused almost entirely on the deep end of our criminal justice system: prison, parole, and reentry to society. We’ve only just started to examine where the criminal justice carousel begins: arrest, pretrial and trial practices, and county jails.

In the decades that we have served the citizens of Michigan, we’ve built a foundation of smart justice policy. And we believe that foundation can now be a platform for brand new reform efforts that address the earliest decision points in our public safety system. We look forward to working closely alongside the Task Force to keep tabs on its progress, bring long-needed scrutiny to practices that are now out of date, and encourage them to continue to think big.

As conservatives, we believe the law must reflect foundational values. It must evolve based on the latest research and knowledge in the field. And it must serve all the people in our state, not just the well off and well connected.

But what we are hearing from people who work in criminal justice system is another story.

They talk about warrants and arrests in large numbers for technical violations that pose no danger to the public or any individual victim. They paint a picture of people pleading guilty to charges, even when they’re innocent, simply to get back to their children, families and jobs. And they regularly remind us that those who spend the most time in our jails are often the ones most in need of mental health care and addiction treatment. We can do better.

We encourage the Task Force to open up this closed world, to provide our lawmakers with hard data and new ideas, and to take advantage of this unique moment in time when political leaders from every corner of the state are aligned on jail reform as a top priority for Michigan.

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Tom Stillings
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 9:04am

Sounds like something worth looking into. I think we need to see where this leads.

Tom Stillings
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 9:04am

Sounds like something worth looking into. I think we need to see where this leads.

William Gutzwiller
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 9:29am

I look forward to serving on this Task Force and hope to bring ideas to the table to assist local government and the citizens they serve.

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 10:11am

Jase Bolger writing about jail reform is a novel idea. I wonder if he started thinking about this when he was helping to break our election laws with Roy Schmidt?

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 12:02pm

Yes, I was thinking the same thing. Prison reform when so many Republicans are getting in legal trouble and heading to jail. Great time to make things easier so they can get out fast and early.

Richard Burney
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 11:15am

Criminal justice reform should not be a partisan issue. It's sad to see the achievements described characterized in such a self-serving, partisan way.

Kate Dahlstrom
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 11:23am

This article is certainly written to promote republicans; shame on them for that. The criminal justice system is certainly flawed here in MI, especially with regard to the mentally ill, and long overdo for change. This task force would do well to look at other states or cities that are already making progressive changes. See Bridge article: https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-health-watch/mentally-ill-suspects-get....

Carole Currier
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 12:05pm

At one time there was a project for artists to teach art to prisoners. I know an artist who was doing it and found it very rewarding for both himself and the prisoners. The program was discontinued. Why? It is things like this that make me think that one of the problems is with whoever is running the prison.

Frank Koob
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 12:24pm

Let's begin by freeing immediately any of those who would not be incarcerated under today's laws. The word is immediately!

Frank Koob
Fri, 05/24/2019 - 12:24pm

Let's begin by freeing immediately any of those who would not be incarcerated under today's laws. The word is immediately!

Fri, 05/24/2019 - 4:47pm

They had to mention like 4 times that they were republican or conservative. Who cares?

Sat, 05/25/2019 - 1:13pm

It seems like Bridge is just running a commercial for the Rs. These three have shown no personal inclination to address criminal justice issues when they were speaker. While Speaker, DeRoche introduced 53 resolutions and no bills. Bolger was Speaker for two terms: he introduced 87 resolutions and one bill on religious freedom. Chatfield, who just recently became Speaker, has introduced 3 resolutions and no bills.
A quick check of their prior terms showed little or no interest in the subject.
In addition, Mr. Bolger showed zero interest in behaving in a bipartisan manner.
This guest commentary is just filler.

Shelley Decker
Sat, 05/25/2019 - 1:43pm

That is some flowery, self-congratulating language served up to aggrandize any perceived achievements! But I am glad to know they realize the arrest, prosecution, plea deal, and court process need examination and reining in. I'm still concerned about how SWAT is overused and misused in Michigan, which was not mentioned. We have a very real policing problem which is exacerbated by the prosecutor stacking charges to force plea deals. Over 90% of court cases in Michigan are resolved by plea. My husband was threatened by Judge Mark Trusock to jail time, if he didn't plead guilty to something, today. This was after KANET let a cocaine dealer go once he provided what they asked: 3 "caregiver" names. None of this is legal, but our cops and courts have become a system to railroad people.

abe bubush
Sun, 10/20/2019 - 6:29pm

What a bizarre about face for the zero-tolerance, law-and-order, hang 'em high Republican Party. Could it be because they will need a new tolerance for when their God in Chief Trump is facing multiple felony indictments?

Sun, 10/20/2019 - 11:39pm

I don't know who they are talking to about technical violations. Most parolees who violate for any reason don't get a proper sanction, often they get no sanctions st all which is a huge public safety risk. None of my colleagues would be saying anything like this because it is a lie.