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Good behavior bills could mean shorter sentences in Michigan

Bills introduced on the last day of the legislative session
If passed, the Ionia Correctional Facility and all other Michigan prisons would be affected by the new legislation
Posted at 7:55 AM, Dec 29, 2022

IONIA, Mich. — A pair of bills introduced in the State House would allow the Michigan Department of Corrections to shave time off of prisoners' sentences for good behavior.

Criminal reform groups and state representatives want the current Truth in Sentencing Lawchanged to offer people a second chance.

New bills introduced in MI House hope to offer prisoners time off for good behavior

"There are a lot of folks incarcerated that should have an opportunity for redemption," Michigan Representative Amos O'Neal said.

Rep. O'neal is a sponsor of the bills and introduced them to the State House on the last day of the legislative session, looking to offer the time-off option to prisoners who are serving over five years for any crime.

"These bills, they do not impact folks who were serving life without parole," he said. "So let's make a distinction there. We don't want anybody out that's dangerous to society, that's not what this bill does.”

How it would work is the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) would be in charge of tracking prisoners' behavior on a 30-day basis. If a prisoner behaves well consecutively month after month, they would earn time off. It's something MDOC says would overwhelm their already understaffed corrections officers.

"We've got 32,000 prisoners," MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said. "So you'd have to look at 32,000 files and look at how much time those individuals have served."

If passed, the Ionia Correctional Facility and all other Michigan prisons would be affected by the new legislation
If passed, the Ionia Correctional Facility and all other Michigan prisons would be affected by the new legislation

Criminal reform groups hope this actually helps staff by encouraging prisoners to behave well, retaining corrections staff and reducing their stress.

"We'd much rather have someone who is following rules and policies and working on bettering themselves and earning credits than someone who sits the five years and then is released," Michigan Justice Advocacy Executive Director Mariah LeRolland-Wagner said.

A parole board would ultimately be the final say if a prisoner can or can not leave early. It's something prosecutors say takes power away from the judge and jury who decided the sentencing, and the victims affected.

"All we do is re-traumatize the victims over and over again," Eaton County Prosecutor Doug Lloyd said. "This bill here would make it where the victims would no longer have a voice. I don't see personally how these bills are good for Michigan at all.”

Because the bills were introduced on the last day of the legislative session they will have to be reintroduced in the new session in January. But supporters say the conversation has already begun, and that was their goal.

"People get to discuss and debate whether it's a policy that makes sense for us or not," LeRolland-Wagner said. "That's what we're looking forward to happening next year.”