State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Efforts lag to help mentally ill prisoners

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Despite recent efforts, treatment of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons is still inadequate, experts agree.

Up to 64 percent of inmates in Michigan jails have a mental illness, according to an August 2014 report from the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. In Michigan prisons, the figure hovers just above 20 percent.

Stepping Up, a 2-year-old program launched by the National Association of Counties, aims to reduce the number of those with mental illnesses in jails across the state. By closely monitoring the status and collecting data on those with mental illnesses, the program aims to link various groups to solve the issue.

Despite the endorsement of the Michigan Association of Counties, the situation is still bleak. Continue reading

Assisted suicide bill introduced — again

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Cochran recalls, a Michigan resident approached him during a coffee hour to tell him her family was moving to Oregon.

The woman’s father suffers from cancer, and when the time is right, he wants to be able to choose to die painlessly using lethal drugs with the aid of a doctor, Cochran said.

That’s a right the man will have in Oregon that he doesn’t have in Michigan.

“Her story is tragic,” said Cochran, a Mason Democrat. “It’s a topic we need to have discussion on, and it has been around for a long time.” Continue reading

Criminal justice bills would define problems to help solve them

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s recidivism rate is significantly higher than the national average. Or is it?

No one knows for sure, supporters of a criminal justice revamp package say, thanks to a lack of agreement among state agencies about which measurements to use in defining how often convicted criminals go on to commit future crimes. And that’s just one part of the problem.

A piece of legislation defining recidivism and how to calculate a rate is one of 20 bills in a package that supporters say would enhance the efficiency of Michigan’s criminal justice system. The package awaits approval from Gov. Rick Snyder after clearing the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

The bills would institute changes throughout the system: Reforms to data tracking, prison time, probation and parole policies, and reentry approaches are included. Continue reading

Bill would “level playing field” in human trafficking cases

By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh nationally in reports of human trafficking, and a lawmaker wants to give prosecutors more tools to combat those crimes.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill that would allow certified experts to testify about telltale signs of deviant social behavior demonstrated by human trafficking victims.

Bringing in experts to testify about a victim’s behavior allows judges and juries to receive informed opinion that the victim has, in fact, been subject to human trafficking.

Human trafficking is defined as forcing or deceiving a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, which is run by Polaris, a nonprofit group fighting slavery. Continue reading

Senate amendment would add LGBT to state hate crime law

By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service

LANSING — Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he has felt compelled to include sexual orientation and gender identification in Michigan’s hate crime law since 2015, when eight gay men, including a friend of his, were targeted in Lansing.

“Two thugs found out eight different men were gay by going onto computer dating sites,” Jones said. “They beat these men bloody, tied and chained them up and robbed them. When they were captured, they made a confession to the police department that they hated gays and hope they die.”

A year later, Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, introduced an amendment to Michigan’s hate crime law — cosponsored by Jones — to include additional penalties for crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation and gender identification. It never got a hearing.

On Feb. 8, Bieda re-introduced the amendment, cosponsored by Jones, Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, and seven Democrats. State and local LGBT advocates are praising the bipartisan group of senators who support the legislation.   Continue reading

Michigan lags in solitary confinement reform

By RAY WILBUR

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prison reform advocates worry that the lack of policies for solitary confinement in Michigan prisons has exacerbated violence and mental health problems among inmates.

Michigan has no age or time limits for putting inmates in administrative segregation,  commonly known as solitary confinement. And while almost half the states ban solitary confinement for juveniles, Michigan does not.

“We need to have some sort of blanket reform here,” said Kristen Staley, deputy director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This is a big fight, but it has to happen.”

Some prisons have tried to reduce the use of solitary, said Staley. But that patchwork change is slow and that makes it ineffective. Continue reading

Court upholds $10,000 fine, restoration order in wetlands case

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Property owners who converted wetlands to a horse pasture without a state permit must restore the site and pay a $10,000 civil fine, the Court of Appeals has ruled.

The three-judge appeals panel unanimously upheld a trial judge’s order that Hernan and Bethany Gomez remove 1.2 acres of fill material they illegally placed in a wetland on their 54-acre Livingston County parcel between 2005 and 2010.

The Gomezes said they did it because they wanted to construct a “working ranch” with horses next to their new house.

Wetlands are continuing to disappear in Michigan, according to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The state’s current 6.5 million acres of wetlands is down from 10.7 million acres before European settlement. Continue reading

Anti-overdose medication may be authorized for schools

BY CAITLIN DeLUCA

Capital News Service

LANSING — A drug used to counteract the effects of an opioid overdose could be on hand in Michigan schools free of charge.

The drug, called Naloxone, is currently not available without a prescription.

The Senate recently passed legilslation which would allow schools to decide to have the drug on hand for free as long as training is received by a registered nurse.

The bill now goes to the House.

Opioid addiction has been tackled before in the Legislature, including requiring life support vehicles, like ambulances, to carry the life-saving drug.

More than 1,000 opioid-related overdose deaths were reported in Michigan in 2014 by the Department of Health and Human Services. Continue reading

Facial recognition technology still a concern but Michigan a national leader

By BRIDGET BUSH

Capital News Service

LANSING– Michigan State Police get such high marks for overseeing automated photo searches for criminals, according to a recent report by a national group examining privacy and law enforcement, that the state is a model for the nation.  

But the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology also recommends that using driver license photos in such searches, as the Michigan State Police does, should only occur after state legislatures vote to allow them. And if allowed, the states should notify the public of their use, the study said.

Right now police must provide “appropriate justification for use,” said Lori Dougovito, public affairs representative for the Michigan State Police. That means that law enforcement police can only search the database under reasonable cause or in the case of a citizen-filed complaint to remove their image. Continue reading