Safe & Just Michigan - September 2019

Clean Slate Makes Its Debut

 After months of work and negotiation, a package of Clean Slate legislation has been introduced to the Michigan Legislature and has already received its first hearing before the House Judicial Committee on September 24.

 If passed, this legislation will be crucial in helping people who have a criminal record and who have lived crime-free for years. This package of legislation would increase the number of these people who would become eligible for an expungement and, in many cases, make that expungement automatic.

 As a founding member of the Michigan Clean Slate Campaign, we at Safe & Just Michigan are very pleased that the legislation has finally been introduced. However, we believe the bills could be made even stronger, and we would like to see improvements made to them during the legislative process.

 Some highlights of the Clean Slate legislative package include:

• An expansion of the number of offenses eligible to be expunged. Currently, only one felony and two misdemeanors can be set aside. If the new legislation passes, that limit will increase to two felonies or up to four misdemeanors, and more if none of the convictions are assaultive.
• A mechanism would be created to automatically clear two felonies or up to four misdemeanors from someone’s public criminal record after 10 years, if all of those offenses are non-assaultive.
• The state would create a process to set aside marijuana sentences for misdemeanor convictions for conduct that would have been legal after the 2018 referendum legalizing recreational marijuana.
• Multiple convictions for certain offenses that happened during “one bad night” would become eligible for expungement as a single offense.
• For the first time, most traffic offenses would become eligible for expungement.
• Wait times to become eligible to petition a court for an expungement would be reduced. The waiting period to petition for a misdemeanor expungement would become three years. People could petition to have a felony expunged after five years and a second felony after seven years.

 Petitioning is a separate process than an automatic expungement. Even if someone opts against petitioning for an expungement, their record would still be automatically be expunged if the bill for automatic expungement passes and their record makes them eligible.

 Since the bills enjoy bipartisan support, we anticipate the legislation will move quickly through the Legislature.

Taking a Look At Long Sentences

 There are more than 10,000 people in Michigan serving minimum sentences of 20 years or longer, which is more than a quarter of the state’s the prison population. In order to continue to reduce the prison population and correctional spending, we need to understand who are serving long sentences and develop policies to address these issues.

 There are several important differences between people serving long sentences and the rest of the prison population. On average, people who are serving these longer sentences are older and have served more time than the rest of the population. Overall, the average age of a person incarcerated in Michigan in October 2018 was about 40 years old, while the average age of an individual in this subsection of the population was 47 years old, with a range of 18 to 91 years old.

 Opposite of this trend is the age of conviction. Those who received sentences with minimums of at least 20 years were slightly younger at conviction than people who received shorter sentences. People who received long sentences were an average of 31 years old at the time of conviction, compared to the age of 32.5 years for the rest of the incarcerated population.

 Additionally, the length of time served as of October 2018 is more than doubled for this group. Looking at the entire incarcerated population, the average amount of time served is 7.43 years. However, for the group serving more than 20 years, the average is 16.28 years.

 We also see significant racial differences between this group and the rest of the population. Keeping in mind the limited accuracy of the racial data available through the MDOC, about 53 percent of the people incarcerated in Michigan prisons were identified as black, 43 percent white, and the remaining 4 percent as other categories. In a state like Michigan, where black people comprise about 14.1 percent of the population, this means that black people are already heavily overrepresented in our prisons, but that overrepresentation becomes even worse among people serving life or long sentences. Among that group, 64 percent of people are black, 33 percent are white, and the remaining 3 percent belong to other categories.

 There is also a key distinction to be made among people serving long sentences: approximately half of the people in this group are serving a long indeterminate sentence (LID), and the other half are serving a life sentence. Among those serving a life sentence, some are eligible for parole and some are not. The topic of life sentences will be explored at length at a later date.

Sentencing in Michigan

 Michigan has an indeterminate sentencing structure, which means they are not told a set number of years they will be in prison when they are given their sentence. At their sentencing, they receive a minimum sentence, which is set by a judge. Their maximum sentence is determined by law. Once a person has served their minimum sentence, the parole board has jurisdiction to determine eligibility for release.

 For example, someone has been found guilty of first-degree home invasion, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years. A judge sentences him to a minimum of five years in prison. The individual would have to be incarcerated for five years, but after that point he would become eligible for parole. However, there is no obligation for the parole board to release him, and he could spend the full 20 years incarcerated.

 Further, due to truth in sentencing laws passed in the late-1990s, people incarcerated in Michigan must serve 100 percent of their minimum sentence before they are eligible for parole. That means that if someone has been given a minimum sentence of 100 years, they are not eligible for release until all of those 100 years have been served. This is sometimes called a “virtual life sentence” because, in effect, it means the person will live the rest of his or her life in prison.

 Parole eligibility is significantly different for those who are sentenced to life. Approximately 70 percent of those serving life sentences in Michigan are serving life without parole (LWOP), meaning they are not eligible for parole. The remaining 30 percent of those incarcerated serving a life sentence in Michigan are serving life with parole. However, the process for this group is significantly different and will be the focus of the next blog in this series.

 Safe & Just Michigan is committed to sentencing reform that is fair, increases public safety, and reasonably utilizes state resources. Understanding who are serving these sentences is an important step in creating and achieving reform.

Have You Made Your Dinner Plans
For Oct. 10?

 We’d like to invite you one last time to our Annual Dinner Meeting at the Radisson Hotel in Lansing on Thursday, Oct. 10, starting at 6 p.m. This is an incredible chance to hear from DeAnna Hoskins, the president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, a national organization that is mentoring and lifting up formerly incarcerated people to become leaders in the movement for criminal justice reform. JustLeadershipUSA is also one of our partners in bringing Clean Slate to Michigan. Ms. Hoskins also served as a senior policy advisor for corrections and re-entry in the Bureau of Justice Assistance Division in President Obama’s administration, so we know you’ll want to hear from her.

 And if that weren’t enough, we’ll also be giving our William G. Milliken award to Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids), who has made criminal justice reform a top priority ever since he arrived in the Capitol in 2016. He is a champion of Clean Slate, the sponsor of an ambitious bail reform package, and the author of a bill last session to restore the “good time” credits in Michigan.

 If you’ve joined us for dinner in previous years, you’ll be interested to know that for the first time this year we are offering plated dinners rather than a buffet line. Buying your ticket now allows you to choose between herbed chicken, Atlantic salmonm or oven-roasted vegetable risotto. Tickets are $25 each at or $250 for a table at

 We hope to see you there!

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