Senate Introduces Prison Productivity Credit Package

A bipartisan bill package that would allow some prisoners to earn productivity credits to reduce their sentences was introduced Tuesday in the Senate, a move the lead bill sponsor said has proven effective in other states and would improve recidivism rates if enacted into law.

The four-bill package largely mirrors a House bill package introduced last year.

Under the legislation, prisoners would be able to earn productivity credits for future sentences. They could not be applied retroactively.

Prosecutors would be required to notify crime victims at the time of sentencing that the ability to earn an early release by productivity credits by the offender is possible.

A capped amount of productivity credits would be available for prisoners to earn toward an earlier parole date based on going through programming successfully.

The parole board would still make final determinations on a prisoner’s release no matter the programs that are completed, while prosecutors and judges would retain discretion. Those convicted of murder, human trafficking or sex offenses would not be eligible.

“The goal is to work with the House and anybody who wants to improve public safety and the functioning of our criminal justice system,” Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), one of the bill sponsors, told reporters Tuesday. “We need more tools to reduce recidivism, to make prison environments safer, and bringing in productivity credits would be a way to advance those goals.”

Similar legislation was introduced in the House in April 2023 and heard in committee in May 2023.

Bill supporters have said the legislation is different from the “good time” credits abolished with the enactment of truth-in-sentencing laws in the 1990s. Good time credits allowed prisoners to earn reduced sentences for good behavior while serving their time.

Law enforcement has voiced opposition to the proposal, as has Attorney General Dana Nessel. They contend the bills would amount to lying to crime victims about the sentence perpetrators are expected to serve.

The House package stalled last year over questions including whether the proposed changes would require a three-fourths majority vote to repeal the “good time” credits because the changes would have amended a voter-initiated act passed by voters.

Irwin said he did not believe it would require a three-fourths vote to enact the proposed changes. He added he would expect there to be debate over the bills and many of the same concerns to be raised by potential bill opponents.

He pointed out data from the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national nonprofit group, that more than several states have some form of a productivity credits program in place. He said the data shows a reduction in recidivism.

The other bill sponsors also pushed for support of the package in statements.

“It is critical that we preserve the rights of crime victims to know how long their perpetrators will serve before they can become eligible for parole,” Sen. Roger Victory (R-Georgetown Township) said. “At the same time, we must proactively improve prisoner rehabilitation to reduce repeat crime and make our state safer for all.”

Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said the changes would incentivize prisoners to take part in programming that would benefit everyone.

“By helping people become connected to, rather than marginalized from, the communities they’re returning to, we create safer neighborhoods,” Geiss said.

Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said crime reduction can be helped through lowering recidivism.

“Prisoners who complete productivity credits are better prepared to return to their communities as engaged, employed members of society who do not re-offend and create new victims,” McBroom said. “This program offers a strong incentive to complete programming that has been proven to reduce reoffending.”

Irwin said he welcomes discussion in the Senate on the proposal. The bills were referred to the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee .

“Michigan is one of the states where our laws don’t reflect that we believe in rehabilitation,” Irwin said. “Our laws are incredibly harsh and very much stuck in the 1990s lock them up and throw away the key mentality. I’d like to do a better job of trying to determine which of these folks can be successful on the outside, which of these folks are really a threat, which of these folks have really been rehabilitated, rather than continuing down this philosophy that rehabilitation is not possible.”

EUP News Staff

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