Advocates Seek Jail Reform

Michigan Jails During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an overhaul of our daily activities, and how many things are viewed. The normal routines for the operation of the Michigan prison system and county jails have seen monumental change. In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reserve jail and prison for those who commit violent crimes, a huge number of inmates have been released. In mid-March, there were nearly 18,000 people in the overall jail population statewide. In about six weeks, that number was reduced by approximately 10,000 people in which about 8,000 remained. Wayne County reduced its jail population by 40%, Ingham County by 30%, and Genesee by about 25%. While these numbers are significant, the most glaring statistic that has emerged during this period is the significant decrease in new criminal case filings, and that the State of Michigan has generally not seen those released re-offend in any way to end up back in jail. This decrease in crime even while so many have been released from jail has strengthened the calling for jail and prison reforms from various groups. Local groups such as the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration have pushed for reform, while national groups such as the Vera Institute of Justice have helped lead the way nationally with their research and statistical analysis.

Advocates Seek Change to System

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack discussed how the pandemic actually allowed this sort of experimental period in what would happen if there is a significant reduction in jail populations. She noted that even though the evidence during the pandemic may be a product of circumstance, years of data review have shown that reducing jail populations would not impact violent crime. Research has shown that the Michigan jail populations have nearly tripled over the last 40 years even while crime rates have gone down. The resources needed to operate these jails and court systems are quite significant. Each Michigan county spends about $6 million a year on their county jails alone. In 2017, Michigan counties spent nearly $480 million on county jails as a whole. The added space in our state’s jails and prisons has led to a greater ability to quarantine inmates who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 in an effort to stop the spread. Advocates for jail and prison reform have pointed to these and many other reasons for why change is needed in our criminal justice system.

What Happens Next?

The re-opening of court systems has been a slow and changing process. The pandemic has led to significant technological changes in how everyday legal work is handled in the court system. Remote Zoom hearings have become the norm and attorneys don’t even have to leave their living room in order to represent their clients. How much of that system remains once courts start to fully reopen remains to be seen. In the meantime, the state of Michigan has been keeping statistics that suggest it is time to reform our jails and prisons. Various jail and prison reform groups and Michigan lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been leading the push for change. This moment in time will likely be seen as a tipping point in how our jail and prison systems operate in the future. The push to reduce mass incarceration has gained new allies in many areas that could lead to significant change.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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