Pew Applauds Michigan for Enacting Bipartisan Legislation to Safely Reduce Jail Populations

Gov. Whitmer signs comprehensive legislation reforming state policies that affect county jails

Michigan State Capitol
Nick Hagen for Pew Charitable Trusts

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts today commended Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R), and Lee Chatfield (R)—whose term as state House Speaker ended last month—for passing and signing a bipartisan package of bills aimed at protecting public safety while reducing the number of people in county jails. The 20 pieces of legislation, passed with bipartisan majorities in the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate, were signed into law by Gov. Whitmer on Jan. 4 and go into effect this year.

The reforms reflect recommendations of the interbranch, bipartisan Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, co-chaired by Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist (D). The task force—which was launched by state and county leaders in the spring of 2019 and received technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project—found that Michigan’s jail population had nearly tripled in 40 years, even as crime rates fell to the lowest levels in 50 years.

Among its provisions, the legislative package will eliminate driver’s license suspension as a penalty for offenses not related to dangerous driving; increase use of arrest alternatives; prioritize alternatives to jail in sentencing for low-level offenses; and reduce jail admissions for technical violations of probation rules. The reforms bring comprehensive change to state-level policy affecting county jail populations and occur as states grapple with how to respond to coronavirus outbreaks in correctional facilities.

Jake Horowitz, director for Pew’s public safety performance project, issued the following statement:

“We commend Michigan’s leaders for passing and enacting comprehensive legislation to protect public safety, reduce jail populations, divert people from incarceration, and support counties. The state’s commitment to bipartisan reform comes at a critical moment as officials across the country work to contain coronavirus outbreaks in correctional settings.

“Michigan now serves as a model for other reform-minded states to continue seeking common-sense criminal justice reforms that reduce jail populations and shift resources to public safety policies with a higher return on investment. These policy changes will affect hundreds of thousands of people each year and make Michigan a national leader in jail reform.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at

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