As the COVID-19 pandemic barreled through Michigan, many vulnerable populations became prone to outbreaks. Jails and prisons around the state, where social distancing was nearly impossible to enforce, quickly became hot spots, putting thousands at risk.
As jail conditions created a perfect storm for coronavirus spread among inmates and staff, it became increasingly clear that jail populations would need to be swiftly lowered to stop the spread. By mid-March jail populations were reduced from around 17,000-18,000 statewide, to about 8,000, in six weeks.
Even with reducing the jail population by over half, Michigan has not seen a spike in crime. In fact, in the months of May and June Michigan saw 34% decrease in new criminal filings in circuit courts and a 13% decrease in felony filings in district courts.
For decades activist groups, like the ACLU, have been fighting to reduce incarceration for non-violent crimes. With a focus recently being on the release of non-criminal immigrants who have been jailed in droves by ICE under the Trump Administration. Some of the biggest arguments against incarceration reform have been the possibility of increased crime, and endangering public safety. However, this unique time in history has forced population reduction creating the ability to gather information necessary to make these reforms long term.
To monitor the long-term effects of jail population reduction on overall crime, a joint task force on jail and pretrial incarceration was created. This task force was made up of elected officials, top judges and attorneys in the state, and jail reform resource organizations. They are responsible for gathering information about the jail populations, cost and rehabilitation to inform policy decisions and solutions moving forward.
Bridget McCormack, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice and Co-Chair of the task force shared of the jail population reduction, “There are not many big upsides of a pandemic, but we actually get this experimental period where we get to look at the data and observe the effects.”
To read more about jail population reduction during COVID-19, head to the Gander here.