Advocates and lawmakers gathered Wednesday in Lansing with the message that there are too many people incarcerated and too few opportunities for inmates to reform themselves upon release.
It was part of the first National Day of Empathy. Advocates working to reform Michigan’s incarceration and criminal justice laws gathered in Lansing for panel discussions and workgroups.
Aaron Suganuma is a formerly incarcerated person and with one of the organizations that sponsored the event. He said he hopes this is a catalyzing event to get more people involved in criminal justice reform. “It lets people know ‘oh wait a minute, yea I can be a part of the system, I can make the system work for me,’” Suganuma says. “This is a great opportunity to be able to connect with the people who are passing the laws with the people who have been most impacted.”
Robyn McCoy is a criminal defense attorney who spoke at the event. She says there needs to be a cultural shift away from simply locking people up. But currently in Michigan, McCoy adds, “What I see on a day to day basis in the court system, it’s a lot more focus on penalty and not enough focus on restoration and rehabilitation.”
Part of that cultural shift does appear to be happening in the state legislature. A major, bipartisan package that was in the works last year, made its way out of a House committee. That’s after it received almost unanimous support in the Senate. The package is aimed at things like reducing recidivism costs to the state and reducing crime overall in Michigan.
Republican Sen. John Proos is a bill sponsor. He says this type of reform could set the standard for many other states to change the course of crime and victimization in communities. “An ancillary benefit to all of that, but not one that should be misunderstood or downplayed at all," Proos states, "is that it ultimately saves tax payer dollars also.”
Among other things, the legislation would allow for early release from probation in certain circumstances and require prisoners aged 18 to 22 only be housed with other inmates in that age range.