Safe & Just Michigan - June-July 2019

Commission Considers
Sentencing Disparities and
Michigan’s Habitual Offender Statute

The June meeting of the Criminal Justice Policy Committee (CJPC) included the introduction of a new chair, the results of new research conducted on sentencing disparities in the state of Michigan, and a review of our state’s habitual offender statute.

Overseeing her first meeting was the new Chair Amanda Burgess-Proctor, an associate professor of criminal justice at Oakland University. Her first order of business was discussing the mandate for the continuation of the commission, which is set to expire in September 2019.

During the last legislative session, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that would have extended the commission’s mandate for four years. However, the ultimately successful House version extended the CJPC for only nine months.

Sen.Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Township), Chair of the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, and Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), both of whom participated in the meeting, expressed support for extending the commission’s mandate. Chair Burgess-Proctor arrived at consensus for sending a letter to the legislative leadership asking for an extension of the commission’s authority.

Next on the agenda was an update from Grady Bridges, the commission’s data administrator, about his newly finished report, “Evaluation of Straddle Cell Sentencing in Michigan: Class E Felonies.” The report is about how judges actually applied straddle cells for people with Class E Felonies in the State of Michigan in order to determine if those decisions were made appropriately.

Judges have been given the discretion by statute, in certain circumstances, to sentence people for certain designated crimes to either jail or prison time. Jails generally only hold people who have been sentenced for up to a year of incarceration, so these sentences start with periods of incarceration at one year or less and move up from there. The sentencing guidelines contain boxes (or cells) explaining where someone’s crime fits in the guidelines, so when the cell doesn’t suggest either jail or prison time, it is referred to as a “straddle cell.”

One of the original mandates of the CJPC was to explore the possibility that our sentencing guidelines were being applied in racially disparate ways. Investigating how this plays out in different parts of the sentencing guidelines can help determine which areas need to change and what changes might be necessary to ensure our system is generating fair sentencing outcomes.

This new report found eight issues significantly related to someone being sentenced to prison instead of jail in these cases: conviction method (trial vs. plea), attorney status (retained vs. appointed), employment status, offense crime group, gender, race, age, and the circuit court where the person was sentenced.

Since the report was just released on June 6, it was decided that the members take some time to digest the data, draw conclusions, and make suggestions for recommendations the commission can discuss and potentially report back to the Legislature.

The final agenda item was a briefing on the basics of Michigan’s habitual offender statute. This statute allows prosecutors to ask for and judges to sentence people beyond the ceiling set by sentencing guidelines based on the number of times they have been found guilty of prior crimes.

For example, in a widely publicized case, a man was found guilty of selling three pounds of marijuana, which usually carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. The person arrested for selling the drugs had a previous felony background, and a search of his home subsequent to his arrest turned up several firearms. Possessing a firearm while having a felony record usually brings a maximum sentence of five years. Because the previous convictions, each of the additional charges made him eligible for charges under the habitual offender statute, so he was charged as a habitual offender and sentenced to 40-60 years in prison.

One of the issues raised in the discussion of the habitual statute was the notion of being doubly penalized for having a prior record. In other words, you get put in a different category of potential punishment for having a prior record, and then once you are put in the habitual category, you can be punished again based on that same prior record.

The meeting ran out of time soon after this conversation began, and there wasn’t time to get much beyond the double-counting problem.

Leader of JustLeadershipUSA to speak at
SJM’s annual dinner meeting

Safe & Just Michigan is proud to announce that DeAnna R. Hoskins, the president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, will be our featured speaker at this year’s Annual Dinner Meeting. The event will take place on Thursday, Oct. 10, starting at 5:30 p.m, hosted at the Radisson Hotel Lansing at the Capitol.

Under DeAnna’s guidance, JustLeadershipUSA is committed to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. JustLeadershipUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform and works with local leaders to empower those most affected by the justice system to become agents for change. A nationally recognized leader and dynamic public speaker, Ms. Hoskins has been committed to the movement for justice, working alongside people impacted by incarceration for nearly two decades. She believes in collective leadership, advocacy for justice reinvestment, and bold systems change. She leads with her own life experience, having been directly impacted by the system of incarceration and the war on drugs, and with her professional experience from the grassroots to the federal government. She is inspired to make the world more just with communities across the country and for her three children, two of whom have experienced the criminal justice system.

Please mark your calendars and join us. Tickets will be available for purchase in August.

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