Hillsdale Police Department will be affected by new laws to come into effect on April 1. Thomas Novelly | Collegian

A slate of new laws will come into effect on April 1, directing local law enforcement to avoid arrests for minor mis­de­meanors. Instead, law enforcement will hand out appearance tickets to those they would have oth­erwise arrested.

In a press release, Michigan Gov. Whitmer said the changes came as a result of a bipar­tisan effort and inves­ti­gation into Michigan’s jail system. The Michigan leg­is­lature made the change in part to address growing jail pop­u­la­tions and pre­trial impris­onment after The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pre­trial Incar­cer­ation found that many pre­trial arrests are unnecessary.

The task force rec­om­mended in a January report that the state take action to reduce the number of people waiting in jail for trial by relying on appearance tickets and guar­an­teeing a hearing within 48 hours.

In 2017 alone, the report found, there were nearly 11 million sep­arate admis­sions into county jails across the state. Over the last 40 years, the state jail pop­u­lation has nearly tripled, driven by con­vic­tions as well as pre­trial holdings, according to the report.

This new direction can help smaller counties, like Hillsdale, which often face shortages in their jails. Hillsdale Police Chief Scott Hephner said just this week, the county jail needed to put restric­tions on arrests because it was nearing capacity.

“This has been ongoing for years,” he said. “Their capacity is some­where in the 60s. Once they hit capacity they go on restriction. They still have to accept if we arrest someone for domestic vio­lence, drunk driving, felony war­rants, and other stuff like that. But if they go over­ca­pacity, the dis­trict court judge has to look at it and see if there are people who can get released early.”

Hephner said the bill left a few excep­tions to its new guidance. Assault, driving under the influence, and any­thing involving a child, to name just a few items, are still arrestable offenses. If his office caught someone driving with a sus­pended license, however, they would only issue an appearance ticket rather than making an arrest. Driving without a valid license, according to the task force report, is the third most common reason for admission into a Michigan jail.

“This will assist with capacity limits at the jail,” Hephner said.