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.