May 2, 2023 - Politics

"Second Look" reform would give prisoners a chance at early release

Michigan Capitol

Michigan Capitol in Lansing, where Democrats hold a majority in both chambers for the first time in 40 years. Photo: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Michigan's incarcerated population could have a better chance of getting lengthy sentences reviewed under a five-bill package set to be introduced by Democrats in both legislative chambers this week.

Why it matters: Research shows the threat of long-term imprisonment is an ineffective deterrent to committing crimes and that decadeslong sentences are often unnecessary because people age out of crime.

  • The 30% of Michigan's prison population serving 10 years or more is far above the national average of 17%, according to national advocacy organization The Sentencing Project.
  • "The only thing it's done is cost taxpayers more money over a longer period of time," Kenneth Nixon, president of the Organization of Exonerees, tells Axios.

Details: Lawmakers want to allow courts to reevaluate sentencing after individuals have served at least 10 years.

  • State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and State Rep. Jimmie Wilson Jr. (D-Ypsilanti) are leading the legislation.
  • "It's one tool to allow people to potentially get re-sentenced and the judge would have the ability to take a look at the facts and make that determination," Chang tells Axios. "We think it's common sense."

What they're saying: Michigan's prison population is disproportionately made up of individuals who have long since aged out of crime, according to advocates.

  • "We have an enormous amount of folks inside who have been in for a very long time who really don't need to be there," Chang says.
  • "Lawmakers in Michigan for decades have refused to admit we have a problem, they've ignored science," Nixon says. "We're behind the rest of the country in how we treat people."

By the numbers: More than 33% of Michigan prisoners who have served at least 10 years were 25 years old or younger at the time of their crime.

What's next: Nixon says Democrats can do more through other legislation separate from the five-bill package to help prisoners once they're released, like requiring the return of vital documents.

  • Through policy enacted under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Department of Corrections and the secretary of state help formerly incarcerated people get state IDs.
  • Nixon says cementing it into law means a new MDOC director couldn't undo the policy.
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