For Immediate Release
Dec. 10, 2020
Mandatory sentencing, driver’s license suspension reforms pass nearly unanimously
LANSING—The Michigan Senate passed two important criminal justice reform packages this morning to eliminate mandatory sentencing for a variety of offenses (House Bills 5844 and 5854–5857) and rein in and reduce driver’s license suspensions for offenses not related to dangerous driving (House Bills 5846–5852).
“For too long, driver’s license suspensions have been overused as a punishment for a variety of offenses not directly tied to being a danger on the road, and with it, the practice has actually made poverty the ‘offense’ most often being punished,” said Alex Rossman, External Affairs Director for the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Today’s action is another step toward smart justice that reins in overly severe and ineffective punishments, and another much-needed step toward improving racial equity and economic stability for Michigan residents and their families.”
As the Michigan League for Public Policy’s testimony on these bills noted, driving without a valid license (including a suspended license) is the third most-common reason for jail admission in Michigan. By strictly penalizing drivers for reasons unrelated to safe driving or stemming from unpaid traffic tickets, Michigan law shuts out Michiganders from financial stability and security, criminalizing poverty instead.
A League fact sheet released in September noted that in 2010, nearly 400,000 licenses were suspended for failure to appear or nonpayment—80% of all license suspensions that year—and only 5% of all suspensions were related to dangerous driving. This number has not reduced substantially over the last decade, with Michigan issuing approximately 360,000 driver’s license suspensions each year because drivers failed to appear in court or pay legal fines and fees.
The League’s analysis on driver’s license suspensions also looked at the dramatically different experiences and punishments by race. Bias in traffic stops contributes to Black drivers being more likely than White drivers to serve jail time for driving without a valid license. Driver’s license suspension reform will not address the racial disparities we see in Michigan’s traffic stops, but it will allow hundreds of thousands of drivers to stay on the roads and continue to work by halting a cycle that stems from unpaid tickets and the debt that can quickly accrue.
On the criminal justice front, the League also supported the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration and its many positive policy recommendations, including the mandatory sentencing reforms passed by the Senate today.
“We simply believe that sentences should fit the nature and severity of the offense, and look at the best ways to achieve resolution, reform and reparation,” Rossman said. “The many mandatory minimum jail sentences currently on Michigan’s books do the opposite of that, sending more Michigan residents to jail for mostly minor incidents. These reforms give judges and prosecutors more flexibility to better match the sentence to the offense. But more importantly, these changes will keep more Michigan residents out of jail and working and supporting their families, better serving our people, our communities, our businesses and our justice system.”
The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.
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