November, 2020 - Safe & Just Michigan

Michigan’s Felony Firearm Law Drives Racial Disparity in Prison & Prison Population

A recently released report from Safe & Just Michigan examines the 40-year history of the felony firearm statute and finds that the law disproportionately impacts Black men and is being unequally applied across the state. In addition, about a quarter of people incarcerated in Michigan prisons in 2018 had been sentenced under the felony firearm law — one of the few remaining statutes in Michigan to carry a mandatory sentence — revealing this law as one of the drivers of Michigan’s prison population.

Michigan’s felony firearm statute makes it a crime for a person to be in possession of a firearm during the attempt or commission of a felony. It applies to situations where the firearm is legally owned or even when the firearm is not used in the commission of the felony. The law imposes a mandatory sentence of two years for a first offense, and five- or 10-years for subsequent offenses. The decision to charge for a felony firearm is solely at the discretion of the county prosecutor. 

Concerns over this law have been raised in the past. In 2015, HBs 4419-20 were introduced to eliminate the mandatory nature of the sentence and give judges discretion in determining a punishment for the first offense. Those bills didn’t gather enough support to advance through the Legislature. Then, in 2017, the statute received significant media attention due to the publicity of the case of Siwatu-Salama Ra. This summer, legislation was once again introduced to address the problems with this state law.

The attention to this statute is valid. More than a quarter of the Michigan prison population in October 2018 had at least one sentence for a felony firearm offense.

One of the most important findings of the Safe & Just Michigan report is the racial disparity prevalent among charging and sentencing for felony firearm offenses. Approximately 82 percent of those sentenced for a felony firearm sentence are identified as Black, while Black people comprise just 14 percent of the state’s population.

Related to the racial disparity of the implementation of this law, there are also geographic differences in the application of the felony firearm statute. There are a handful of counties that did not have anyone sentenced to incarceration for felony firearm in October 2018, while other counties, such as Wayne County, sent more than 5,000 people to prison with at least one felony firearm sentence. In fact, Wayne County accounted for more than half of all the people sentenced on a felony firearm conviction.

Recently introduced House Bills 5993–94 are a step in the right direction to end the issues caused by the felony firearm statute. The bills would end the mandatory sentence for the first conviction of a felony firearm sentence and give a judge greater discretion in sentencing. The proposed changes to the statute could save millions of dollars annually, according to estimates. However, these bills will not go far enough toward reversing the explosive growth Michigan has seen in prison growth and corrections spending. It is vital that the mandatory nature of the felony firearm sentence is eliminated at all levels.

We invite you to read our entire report, which includes detailed information about the racial and geographical disparities of felony firearm sentencing and the overwhelming amount Michigan taxpayers stand to save if we reform this problematic law. Please read the full report at

Clean Slate Bills Signed Into Law

On Oct. 12, Safe & Just Michigan Executive Director John S. Cooper was on hand to participate in the signing ceremony of Clean Slate legislation into law. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the seven bills — House Bill 4980-4985 and HB 5120 — that will automatically expunge simple misdemeanors and non-assaultive felonies from the records of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who have lived crime-free for at least seven years and make it possible for thousands more to apply for the expungement of other old convictions. 

Safe & Just Michigan is thankful that the governor has signed Clean Slate into law. Clean Slate legislation will make new opportunities and a brighter future possible for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders and, as a result, for the entire state of Michigan. 

“As we advocated for Clean Slate, we met a man in Ypsilanti who couldn’t get a felony expunged because of three misdemeanors from nearly 30 years ago. We met a Muskegon man with two drug convictions from the early 1990s, and though he had turned his entire life around and earned a master’s degree, those convictions were holding him back from achieving the opportunities he has worked so hard for. We heard from so many people with traffic offenses on their records, which account for half of all criminal cases in Michigan, but until the signing of this legislation, those offenses weren’t eligible for expungement,” Cooper said at the ceremony. 

The legislation in the Clean Slate package brings new opportunities to up to a million Michiganders who found that their criminal record held them back. The bills included in the Clean Slate legislative package are: 

House Bill 4980: Creates an automated process for expunging eligible misdemeanors after seven years and eligible non-assaultive felonies after 10 years.
HB 4981: For the first time, makes most convictions for traffic offenses — which constitute half of all criminal cases in Michigan — eligible for expungement. 
HB 4982: Creates a process to set aside most marijuana convictions that would have been legal as of Dec. 6, 2018, the date recreational marijuana was legalized in Michigan. 
HB 4983: Reduces the waiting period to file a petition to expunge a record of a misdemeanor conviction to three years. 
HB 4984: Increases the number of misdemeanors and felonies a person can have expunged to an unlimited number of non-assaultive misdemeanors and up to three felonies — however, a person cannot have more than two assaultive felonies expunged in a lifetime or have multiple convictions of the same crime expunged if the maximum sentence for that crime is 10 or more years of incarceration. 
HB 4985: Allows multiple convictions for certain offenses arising on “one bad night” to become eligible for expungement as a single offense. 
HB 5120: Creates a rebuttal process for marijuana expungements and specifies that the burden of proof is on prosecutors. 

HB 4980, the bill to automate expungements, will require a two-year phase-in once funds are appropriated to create technological systems that will allow court, police, and state computer systems to communicate with each other. The rest of the bills are scheduled to take effect in April 2021. 

Clean Slate is expected to increase Michigan’s economic productivity and tax base, expand its workforce, increase incomes for thousands of people and their families, and allow hundreds of thousands of people to fully participate in the economy. In doing so, it will also promote public safety. It truly is a win-win for Michigan.

Clean Slate legislation enjoyed a broad base of support, including bill sponsors from both sides of the aisle. It also found advocates from across the political spectrum, with representatives from organizations as diverse as the ACLU of Michigan and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy testifying in favor of it. Safe & Just Michigan worked together with a coalition of partners to advocate for Clean Slate, including numerous business groups, Nation Outside, JustLeadershipUSA, the Alliance for Safety & Justice, Crime Survivors for Safety & Justice, A.R.R.O., the Detroit Justice Center, Michigan Faith in Action, the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, Still Standing Against Domestic Violence, Americans for Prosperity, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and the ACLU of Michigan. Special thanks are also due to the Center for American Progress, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Crime and Justice Institute, Code for America, and the Clean Slate Initiative for the financial support and technical assistance they provided to the Michigan Clean Slate Campaign.

Learn How to Do Second Chance Hiring with Confidence

On Oct. 28, Safe & Just Michigan teamed up with SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, to present “Best Practices for Second Chance Hiring: The high value of justice-involved employees.” Studies have repeatedly shown that people who have been incarcerated have greater employee loyalty and lower turnover than other workers. Even so, many employers hesitate to hire them, often citing liability concerns. That doesn’t have to be the case. Using best practices, business owners and hiring managers can hire justice-involved people with confidence. Learn how by watching our webinar — you can catch the recorded Livestream at or you can learn more about the program on our blog at

New on YouTube

Safe & Just Michigan has been building out our offerings on YouTube, where you can catch up on our past webinars, see legislative committee meetings related to criminal justice reform, and watch our events. Here are some of the most recent videos we’ve added:

Did you miss our Annual Meeting? We’ve posted a taping of the meeting for you to watch anytime:
Watch the signing of Clean Slate legislation. An historic moment for Michigan’s criminal justice reform movement:

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