Hundreds Rally for Michigan Lawmakers to Pass Bills That Can Help Both Victims and Inmates

Hundreds of people rally at the state Capitol in Lansing for "Survivors Speak Michigan," an annual event organized by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. (The 'Gander/Kyle Kaminski)

By Kyle Kaminski

April 28, 2023

Survivors of crimes and elected officials are banding together to push for statewide legislative reforms that could help victims heal from trauma, renew a focus on rehabilitation, and end cycles of crime across Michigan.

LANSING—Hundreds of survivors of crimes and their families gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to “address the root causes of crime” in Michigan and to ramp up state funding to help compensate those who have been victimized.

“It’s time we build upon our progress to meet the needs of survivors and improve safety in every community,” said Priscilla Bordayo, manager for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, which organized the rally. “That means we must pass the Safer Michigan Act. Survivors should never fear losing their homes or jobs after they’ve just become victimized or lost a loved one.”

Crime Victim Compensation and Protections

Bordayo’s group is pushing for new legislation in Michigan that would boost financial support for crime victimsnamely by helping them move to a more stable home for safety, and expanding employment protections so they can use paid leave to take time off work to recover.

“Progress has been made but more must be done to improve support and safety for all Michiganders,” Bordayo added. “Passing the Safer Michigan Act would ensure that we prioritize healing and redemption, which will help our communities recover and break cycles of crime.”

The state of Michigan currently operates a “Crime Victim Compensation” program which can help pay out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost employment earnings, funeral bills, counseling costs, and other expenses for those who have been harmed. 

But reports have shown that most Michiganders barely use the program at all, with only 2% of survivors actually receiving compensation, which still often failed to meet their financial needs. 

Bipartisan legislation signed into law last year—which takes effect in 2024—will increase access to that fund, namely by expanding compensation to match the actual reported costs that result from crimes, and by eliminating a 48-hour reporting window to be eligible for compensation.

Survivors of crimes gathered at the Capitol on Thursday want to further expand the program, and they’re also calling on lawmakers to do more to provide housing support to victims.

Research shows that more than half of violent crime victims want to relocate as a result of their victimization—and that more than 25% of them are worried about being forced from their home or evicted as a result of the crime. Advocates are now eyeing additional expansion to the state’s compensation program to help account for those rehousing costs for crime survivors.

Surveys also show that most victims do not have job protections should they need to step away from work to prioritize their own safety or health. Many also end up being demoted or losing their job. Legislation to help safeguard survivors could go a long way in ensuring they aren’t continually victimized, advocates said. 

“When we are working together and supporting each other in being able to live with confidence, we are stronger,” state Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) said in a speech from the Capitol steps. “It is always better for all of us to be involved than for any of us to be absent or excluded. We want healing, and we’re ready for an equitable, transformative, fair way to bring it.”

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) speaks at the Capitol on Thursday. (The ‘Gander/Kyle Kaminski)

No bills have been introduced this year to make changes to the victim compensation program, or to add additional housing or employment protections for survivors, but lawmakers—like state Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit)—promised to take action at this week’s rally at the Capitol.

“Combating crime also means ending cycles of victimization,” Carter said. “That’s why I’m sponsoring the Safer Michigan Act, and fighting every step of the way to make our state safer.”

Rehabilitation Focus

Thursday’s rally also highlighted organizers’ renewed focus on rehabilitation over punishment within the state’s jails and prisons. Specifically, advocates for crime survivors are calling for new legislation to create “productivity credits” in Michigan—which could help incentivize inmates who finish rehabilitation programs (and behave well behind bars) with the potential for early release.

Four bills (House Bills 445053) introduced this year by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers would award credits to certain inmates who complete various educational or vocational programs—like completing their high school diploma or getting a college degree. 

Those credits could then be exchanged for an earlier release or parole date.

The bills—like previous versions of the legislation introduced in 2021— would prohibit those convicted of sex offenses, murder, or human trafficking from earning early release credits. More than half of inmates in Michigan would become eligible to receive credits under the legislation.

Reports show that productivity credits would ultimately save millions in taxpayers dollars by eliminating the expense of housing inmates who don’t necessarily need to be behind bars. It could also reduce the chances of inmates going on to commit more crimes after their release.

“Prioritizing rehabilitation for people serving time is a common-sense solution within the Safer Michigan Act to help break cycles of crime and will make everyone feel safer,” said Aswad Thomas, gun violence survivor and national director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

All of the bills were referred to a legislative committee for further review before a House vote. 

Surveys show that 80% of Michigan victims support the idea of reduced sentences, and that about 75% believe rehabilitation and treatment is more effective at preventing crime.

“We show what is possible when we stand up and speak out,” Bordayo told the crowd. “We are here because we want to be safe. We are here because our communities need hope.”

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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