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Criminal justice reform activism sees surge in Michigan

Michael Coghlan
Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Too many people are being incarcerated with too few opportunities to better themselves when they are released. That was the message of advocates and lawmakers who gathered today in Lansing.

It was part of the first National Day of Empathy, and advocates working to reform Michigan's incarceration and criminal justice laws gathered in Lansing for panel discussions and workgroups.

Robin McCoy, a criminal defense attorney who spoke at the event, said Michigan could be a model for criminal justice reform in the nation. But there needs to be a cultural shift away from simply locking people up.

"What I see on a day to day basis in the court system, it's a lot more focus on penalty and not enough on restoration and rehabilitation," said McCoy.

A major, bipartisan package of criminal justice reform bills, that was in the works last year, also cleared a House committee today.  The package has received almost unanimous support in the Senate.

The package is aimed at reducing recidivism costs to the state, lowering the number of inmates in prisons, and reducing crime overall in Michigan.

"An ancillary benefit to all of that, but not one that should be misunderstood or downplayed at all, is that it ultimately saves taxpayer dollars also," said Republican Senator John Proos, a bill sponsor.

Among other things, the bills would allow for early release from probation in certain circumstances and would require that 18-22 year-old prisoners be housed only with other inmates in that age range.