On First National Day of Empathy, Lawmakers & Advocates Gather in Event Regarding Prison Over-Population and Reform Opportunities for Inmates

Recently there have been questions among both advocates and lawmakers regarding the number of people serving time in prison for crimes they allegedly committed and the opportunities available for those who are incarcerated to reform their lives and become productive members of society upon their release in the Lansing area.

On March 1st, designated national Day of Empathy, panel discussions and workgroups were part of the agenda concerning reforming Michigan’s criminal justice and incarceration laws as advocates and lawmakers gathered in an effort for change. As the first Day of Empathy, this was the day that across the nation efforts were focused on criminal justice reform and how society must humanize and empathize with all those including family members, communities, and our society as a whole are affected by it.

An ex-convict with an event sponsor said he hoped this “catalyzing” event would work to get more people involved in criminal justice reform in Michigan. Criminal defense attorneys in the Lansing and surrounding areas are all too familiar with what happens on a daily basis in the criminal court system. Essentially, there is a huge lack of focus on rehabilitation for those found guilty of crimes, and an intense desire to simply put people behind bars for years, decades, even life. The result is not only unfair for individuals who may or may not have committed less serious offenses, but results in a severely overcrowded prison situation.

Now, four years after a joint invitation was issued to the Council of State Governments to take a look at the criminal justice system in Michigan, progress is finally being made. In 2014 after learning of the CSGs findings, several proposals were introduced by the House of Representatives. The criminal justice reform process was stalled at that time due to disagreement regarding presumptive parole, a measure that would place some prisoners out on parole automatically once they had served their minimum sentence. No criminal justice bills passed before the legislative session in 2014 came to an end.

Efforts for criminal justice reform failed again in 2015, mostly because some remained opposed to presumptive parole. However, Governor Rick Snyder issued a statement to House Republicans calling for reforms to be passed over the next six months in an effort to get things moving. His efforts worked, as several reforms were introduced in 2016; in fact, the House passed four, while the Senate proposed 21 reforms. At the end of the day, a single bill made it into Michigan law, the repeal of the “successor judge veto.”

This year no time was wasted by Senate Republicans who got their proposals back on the table, and the sweeping reforms have been approved by the House although a few amendments were made to the final bills. The package now awaits Governor Snyder’s signature.

This is huge for the state of Michigan, as we could be set to become a model for the U.S. in the effective and modern criminal justice administration if all goes as planned. While there are many bills on their way to Governor Snyder’s desk, some of particular interest are those related to creating special rehabilitative plans for young inmates, helping parolees re-enter society through the establishment of special problem-solving courts, and more.

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