Craig DeRoche on Michigan’s Disproportionate Sentencing in the Detroit News

Writing in the Detroit News, president of Justice Fellowship, former speaker of the House in Michigan, and Right on Crime signatory Craig DeRoche tackles his home state’s record on disproportionate sentencing. He writes,

the forcible deprivation of liberty through incarceration is an awesome state power that is vulnerable to misuse, threatening the republican values that underpin the legitimacy of both the prison and of the state.

One of the ways we should limit government power is through the principle of proportionality. Proportionality requires that crimes be sentenced in relation to their seriousness and to the extent of the offender’s moral culpability.

These days, well-designed, well-managed sentencing systems successfully reduce disparities, make sentencing predictable and make the system more transparent. We now have clear evidence that Michigan’s sentencing system does not accomplish these things.

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“Texas conservatives to Michigan: Follow our lead and cut prison funding now”

Marc Levin and Derek Cohen in MLive: “Though their weather is very different, Michigan and Texas share many similarities. Geography and size notwithstanding, both states have a sizeable conservative majority in both chambers of the legislature, and a conservative executive. Both are diverse in terms of demographics and industry.”

Click here to read more.


The Mackinac Center: ‘Not So Criminal Minds’

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy authored a piece on overcriminalization titled “People Who Do Not Knowingly Commit Crimes”

There are thousands of federal laws and many more coming from the states. So many, that at the national level the government doesn’t even try to add them up anymore.

Click here to read more.


“Forfeiture In Michigan”

Michigan Capitol Confidential: Bipartisan House bill would bring transparency to law enforcement seizing property without criminal charges.

Read the whole story here.


Improving Law Enforcement in Detroit

You wouldn’t know it by tuning into your local news, but the notorious crime epidemic of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s appears to have passed. Property crime and homicide rates haven’t been this low in 30-40 years, and contrary to many predictions, crime has actually continued declining during the recession. You would never know it, though, from patrolling the battered streets of Detroit.

America has dealt with failing cities before, but Motor City presents unique challenges. Detroit has undergone massive depopulation since the belly-up of 2008, but the city still has far more residents to protect than Newark, Camden, or Baltimore. Moreover, the way that Detroit is populated creates many headaches for its policemen; the city is sparsely inhabited outside of “stronghold” neighborhoods like East English Village, Mexican Town, and Palmer Woods.

But it is in these middle-class districts that Manhattan Institute senior analyst George Kelling believes the renaissance must begin. Kelling, the author of the famous “Broken Windows” article that inspired a rethinking the NYPD’s tactics in the eighties, believes that letting crime seep into the last stable neighborhoods would trigger an exodus fatal to Detroit. Thus, according to Kelling, no stone should be left unturned: even petty crimes must be dealt with swiftly. Specifically, the crime guru urges zeroing in on, “public urination, prostitution, and other kinds of low level behaviors which are precursors to more serious crime.”  Traffic enforcement is surprisingly important, as routine stops have nabbed many criminals. Certainly, there are many speeders out there who aren’t thieves or killers. A large subset of the criminal population, however, exhibit aggressive driving that is predictive of other behaviors. In a promising start, Michigan’s Department of Transportation has launched an initiative to identify offenders who are also lousy drivers.

With a steady, well-oiled machine devoted to safeguarding and expanding successful areas like Palmer Woods and Grandmont Rosedale, Detroit can hopefully join most of the rest of the United States in kissing sky-high crime rates goodbye.


Michigan Provides More Avenues for Rehabilitated Juveniles

Some juveniles who commit delinquent acts truly learn from their actions and are able to turn their lives around. For juveniles who have reached this level of rehabilitation, it is important that their past mistakes don’t stand in their way of living productive, law abiding lives.

Michigan recently enacted legislation that would allow rehabilitated youths convicted of three or fewer misdemeanors or certain felonies to seal their records after completing their sentence. Prior to this legislation, only first-time misdemeanants could seal their records in Michigan.

This measure is important to ensure that youths who have turned their behavior around and are set on the right path can go to college or find gainful employment without their record standing in their way. Sealing records can also incentivize good behavior and full adherence to rehabilitation, as juveniles know that if they make the right choices their past won’t unnecessarily hold them back.


Crime, Workforce, and Economic Development

In a recent poll, Detroit residents pegged crime as their biggest concern. This bucks the national trend of Americans worrying less and less about safety as crime rates drop. In fact, only one percent of Americans elsewhere believe that crime is the nation’s most important problem.

Much more troublesome, Detroit residents also say they plan to move—likely due, in part, to their daily concerns about public safety.

Without a viable workforce, economic development in Detroit will likely remain stunted, unable to thrive without citizens to fill the jobs, buy consumer goods in city limits, or use services that employ other Detroit citizens.

Evidence-based criminal justice policy is key to fixing the problem in Detroit and in similar cities. With targeted interventions that truly address the underlying causes of crime, low-level offenders can effectively be rehabilitated, leaving prison bed space free to house the violent, dangerous offenders each jurisdiction needs off its streets to truly thrive.


Michigan Considers Swift & Sure Sanctions

In an effort to more effectively supervise probationers and parolees, Michigan is looking to Hawaii for answers. Specifically, the HOPE Court, founded in Hawaii in 2005, provides swift and sure sanctions for supervision violations. This is a more effective method of supervising offenders in the community because the prospect of immediate sanctions, including a weekend in jail, deters far more misbehavior than long-off, delayed, and less-than-probable revocations.

In the original HOPE Court, this method has reduced positive drug tests by 86 percent and reduced missed probation appointments by 80 percent. Revocations as well as reoffending are down more than 50 percent.

Other jurisdictions—including Fort Worth, Texas, and New Jersey—have followed suit. Increases in reoffending, as well as high numbers of technical violators being sent to prison, are causing Michigan officials to consider whether they too should adopt the swift and sure sanction model. Given the dramatic gains in public safety, as well as millions in taxpayer savings possible, the HOPE Court could provide hope for Michigan’s correctional system.


Encouraging New CSG Report on Declining Recidivism in 7 States

This morning, the Council of State Governments Justice Center released an encouraging new report on declining recidivism rates. The report examined the 2005 and 2007 recidivism rates in seven states: Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont. In all seven states, recidivism rates in 2007 were significantly lower than those in 2005. Indeed, one state–Michigan–realized an extraordinary decline of 18%. As the report explains, between 2005 and 2007, these seven states made a concerted effort to identify the offenders most at risk for re-offending, and they prioritized their limited re-entry resources for these at-risk populations. The Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections explained his department’s new philosophy: “One of my wardens constantly asks his staff, right down to the line staff, ‘What can we do to reduce recidivism?’ This gets them thinking that reentry is an important part of what they do…that they can do something to improve the likelihood that the people who leave their custody are successful when they return home.” The results speak for themselves:


Plummeting Recidivism Rates


Community Based Re-Entry in Detroit and Cleveland

One of the most important and fundamental aspects of an effective criminal justice system is proper reentry that ensures public safety is protected while successfully transitioning an offender from prison to the free world. To achieve these dual goals, two jurisdictions have adopted novel community-centered approaches to reentry.

In Detroit, with a program nicknamed “New Beginnings,” police officers serve as mentors to parolees, aiding offenders in job placement and arranging for community service and volunteerism opportunities. Police officers also focus on the old habits that put the parolees in prison in the first place, and coping mechanisms for their new lives, such as anger management techniques. The program participants hope that changing an offender’s attitude about law enforcement and helping him to see a police officer as an ally may increase the likelihood of desistance.

New Beginnings is an example of focusing reentry on both public safety, via supervision and daily contact with law enforcement, and successful transitioning, due to the job placement and mentoring.

In Cleveland, “Breaking the Cycle” focuses first and foremost on job placement. Given the evidence that demonstrates the correlation between high employment rates among ex-offenders and decreased recidivism rates, Cleveland’s focus on employment is well-placed. Further, Breaking the Cycle seeks to be realistic with offenders about what employers expect and the beliefs held about ex-offenders.

Both New Beginnings and Breaking the Cycle are community oriented reentry programs that go beyond the supervision usually found in parole programming and instead seek to put offenders to work and keep them out of prison for good.