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Jail population reduced to curb spread of coronavirus

Posted at 11:12 AM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 11:12:38-04

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration said it is applauding local, county and state responses to curb the spread of the coronavirus by safely reducing jail populations, in a news release sent to Fox 47.

The task force said it continues to urge justice system decision-makers to continue taking all of the necessary actions to keep communities safe by utilizing arrest alternatives, holding off on incarceration when appropriate, and practicing social distancing.

The task force said the chance of infection from the coronavirus is greater in county jails due to high traffic of people and relatively confined spaces.

"Individuals in jail, including law enforcement and correctional officers, are at an elevated risk of being exposed to the virus and spreading it to others through inadequate social distancing," the task force said in a news release.

“Every day we ask judges to make difficult decisions about pretrial release and detention,” said State Court Administrator Tom Boyd. “The presumption of release pending trial doesn’t just affect a defendant’s liberty – it affects their health. This is truer today than ever before. Keeping people at home, when it’s safe to do so, can help protect inmates and corrections officers from an outbreak in our jails and save lives.”

“In my decades of law enforcement and corrections service, I’ve never seen a more urgent time to reduce our jail populations,” said retired police chief Bill Gutzwiller. “Nor have I seen a better roadmap than the one crafted by this statewide body.”

The task force said it began working back in July of 2019 on ways the state of Michigan could reduce jail populations safely and expand alternatives for incarceration.

The task force said its recommendations are data-driven, informed by research and include detailed guidance for the following:
• Handling most traffic offenses as civil rather than criminal matters;
• Expanding officer discretion to use appearance tickets instead of custodial arrests;
• Diverting those with behavioral health needs away from the justice system;
• Detaining only those who pose a significant risk of absconding or harming a person in the community pending trial;
• Using probation, fines, and community service as sentences for low-level crimes;
• Limiting jail time for those who violate the rules of supervision; and,
• Strengthening services and supports for crime victims and survivors.

For more information on the task force, click here.

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