In Blog: Factually Speaking

 

On September 6 and 7, representatives of the Michigan League for Public Policy had the privilege of participating in an innovative event: the Michigan Safety & Justice Roundtable. This two-day series brought together hundreds of people from around the state.

Looking around the room, I saw professors and faith leaders, former offenders and law enforcement officers, data analysts and community leaders, prosecutors and public defenders, and folks from all across the political spectrum. To an outsider, we may have looked like unlikely allies. But there was at least one thing we all agreed on: Our criminal and juvenile justice systems are broken.

Instead of rehashing all the problems in our state though, these forums focused on creating solutions—a refreshing change in this time of partisan blame games and mudslinging. We heard practical, sound advice from our keynote speakers, then rolled up our sleeves and got to work in issue-specific, focused breakout sessions on making recommendations to solve the problems in Michigan’s justice system.

The roundtable’s key issues included:

  • Raising the age of legal adulthood within the court system to 18;
  • Eliminating post-incarceration barriers to employment and reacclimation, like banning the box and making occupational licensing fairer for those with criminal records;
  • Improving data collection and reporting for the criminal and juvenile justice systems;
  • Addressing the unfortunate connection between poverty and incarceration, including an inability to pay bail, costs and fines; and
  • Pursuing alternatives to incarceration and ways to shorten prison stays to reduce our prison population and its related costs, like the objective parole legislation that was recently signed into law.

We at the League are so grateful to the Hudson-Webber Foundation for hosting this important event and including the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the League in the process. We look forward to continuing this hard work and making real change.

The League has long been a proponent of all these issues, with our Kids Count project doing major work on the Raise the Age campaign. We were pleased that on Tuesday, Sept. 25, the Michigan House Law & Justice Committee at long last held a hearing on the issue, where we saw bipartisan support behind developmentally appropriate interventions for kids in the justice system—and the committee continued to discuss the issue at another hearing today.

Seventeen-year-olds are not adults, yet our state automatically treats them as such under the law. We are woefully behind the rest of the nation in this regard; 46 of 50 states agree that 17-year-olds should not be tried as adults, but Michigan is one of the four that has fallen behind.

To help raise the alarm on raising the age, please act now and ask your lawmakers to support this bipartisan package of bills.

Corrections reform is truly one of the cornerstones of our work. The League has existed for more than 100 years and we trace our roots to 1912, when we were called the Michigan Conference of Charities and Corrections. And while child labor laws and some of the issues we faced back then have improved or become obsolete over the last century, other challenges facing Michigan residents, especially those in the criminal justice system, are just as pressing today as they were then.

Our state has a Department of Corrections, not a Department of Incarceration, and we need to do a better job of helping advance the lives of the roughly three million Michiganders who have some type of criminal record. It’s the right thing to do for them, their families and our state.

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