Bills would shave time off prison sentences for participating in educational, vocational programs
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Statewide Manager Priscilla Bordayo speaks at a news conference in Lansing on Tuesday May 23, 2023 | Anna Liz Nichols
Some incarcerated individuals in Michigan could earn time off their sentence through participation in educational, vocational or otherwise rehabilitative programs under legislation that got a hearing in the House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday.
Lawmakers and crime victims spoke of “making good neighbors” out of people once they’ve served their sentences. Many of those who serve time in prison will eventually, whether the legislation passes or not, be released, testified state Rep. Bryan Posthumus (R-Cannon Twp.), who supports the bills. No vote was taken on the legislation.
The legislation would only allow individuals to earn “productivity credits” for up to 20% off their minimum sentence. However, there are ineligible offenses including: Those who were sentenced on first and second-degree murder, human trafficking and charges under the Sex Offender Registry act.
“Every single one of the inmates that this package impacts will be your neighbors at some point. … How do we want these future neighbors to act? … Do we want them to be productive members of society?” Posthumus said. “Do we want these incarcerated individuals who return home to be a better, more productive member of society? Or do we want them to return home having sat in a cell doing nothing to better themselves?”
Discipline is meant to be corrective, said Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), who sponsored HB 4450.
“The question we must ask ourselves as lawmakers is simple: ‘Did we prepare them to return to their families and their communities. … Will they come out safer and less likely to commit crimes than they did when they went in,” Carter said.
Victims could request to be notified if their perpetrators are eligible for productivity credits under HB 4452.
Local members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), a national group advocating for policies to limit incarceration and create rehabilitative solutions in the justice system, testified in favor of the legislation saying incentivizing individuals to participate in restorative programs will help end cycles of violence.
CSSJ Statewide Manager Priscilla Bordayo, who was a court advocate for survivors of ex-Olympic doctor Larry Nassar and is a survivor of sexual violence herself said people who complete their sentences are going to reenter society no matter what. This legislation would keep victims in the loop of when their perpetrators are released and make it more likely that those perpetrators come back into society to participate rather than continue hurting people.
“Michigan crime survivors come from diverse backgrounds with our own unique stories that have shaped us. But one thing we all want is for what happened to them and to us to never happen to anyone else,” Bordayo said. “Ultimately, isn’t this what we seek from our justice system? To ensure that those who are released are able to return as law abiding and productive citizens?”
Michigan has a Truth in Sentencing law on the books under which offenders are required to serve the entirety of the minimum of their sentence before being considered for parole. Posthumus said that since the credits would not be applied retrospectively to individuals already incarcerated, the creation of productivity credits would not violate the current law.
Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) disagreed, telling committee members Tuesday that the proposed legislation goes to “war” against Truth in Sentencing and victims of crimes as they navigate productivity credit their lives after trauma.
“Survivors of domestic violence and attempted murder deserve to have the assurance that the person who assaulted them will be held in prison for a minimum amount of time,” Filler said in a news release Tuesday. “During that period, victims have time to get their lives in order. They can pick up their kids, move and enter an address confidentiality program to protect themselves. That’s the whole point of our truth-in-sentencing law — to give victims time to heal and to require accountability for the crime that is committed.”
Detroit Chapter Coordinator for Crime Survivors Safety and Justice Qiana Wimbley said as a gun violence survivor, she believes the current justice system fails to make survivors safer when it fails to address the cycles of crime.
“Productivity credits will ensure that more people complete these programs,” Wimbley said at a news conference after the committee meeting. “It does not make us any safer to release people into our community with little job, education for life skills unprepared to make ends meet and very likely to go back into a cycle or life of crime. It doesn’t make us any safer to just keep turning a revolving door.”
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