Legislation from three Democratic lawmakers could open the door for some non-violent criminals to be released early from prison.
MICHIGAN—Is a decade in prison long enough for a person convicted of a crime to learn their lesson?
Three Michigan lawmakers think it might be—and they want to give more felons another shot at freedom under legislation announced last week called the “Second Look Sentencing Act.”
The bills—which are set to be introduced in both the state House and Senate this week—would give certain non-violent offenders who served at least 10 years in prison a chance to request a sentence reduction, and then try to prove to a judge that they’re no longer a danger to society.
Those who successfully make their case could then be eligible to be set free. Those convicted of mass shootings, domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct against a child, child pornography, or human trafficking would not be eligible for a second look, MLive reports.
Bill sponsors Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren), and Rep. Jimmie Wilson (D-Ypsilanti) said the legislation could allow prisons to focus more on rehabilitation over punishment, and would cut down costs tied to keeping prisoners locked up for decades on end.
“This is smart legislation. This policy will help reunite family members and provide a second chance for those who have served a significant amount of time in prison, changed themselves for the better, and have much to offer our state,” Chang said in a statement last week.
To make the decision, judges would consider several factors—like the person’s age at the time of the crime; their behavior behind bars; their role in the offense compared to other co-defendants; whether they were a victim of human trafficking; and whether they had experienced domestic abuse before committing the crime. Those who show clear signs of rehabilitation could then be eligible for an early release or a reduction in their initial sentence.
Chang added: “This legislation gives these individuals who have already served a long time in prison the opportunity to return to their communities as productive, valuable residents.”
Officials said about 30% of Michigan’s prisoners have already served 10 years of their sentence. About 20% have been in prison for 15 years. Lawmakers have argued that this population includes elderly folks who no longer pose a threat. And since it costs about $47,000 a year for the state to feed and shelter them, they think Michigan could better spend the cash elsewhere.
“It’s no secret that the cost to incarcerate someone is extremely high,” Wojno said in a statement. “Rather than allow this expense to grow as costs rise and force families and friends to be away from each other for extreme periods of time, why not give these individuals the opportunity to have their sentences reviewed so they may return to their community?”
Reports also show that one third of Michiganders who served at least 10 years in prison were 25 or younger at the time of their crime—a noteworthy statistic, considering that established research has shown that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until a person is in their mid-20s.
Added Wilson: “Living through a decade can change a lot of things—the way we think, how we talk, or how we act. Our brains change and grow, and the decisions we once made are not the decisions we would make now. This legislation allows us to put that understanding into action.”
In Michigan, prisoners who have been incarcerated for at least the minimum portion of their sentences are already eligible to be placed on parole by a vote of the state’s Parole Board. In many cases, that minimum can be longer than 10 years. Only those convicted of first-degree murder or placing explosives causing injury can be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
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