The Gongwer Blog

by Liz Nass

Productivity Credit Bills See Testimony In Senate Panel

Posted: June 24, 2024 9:30 AM

A bipartisan bill package that would count the passing of prison programs towards "productivity credits" to earn reduced sentences heard testimony from both sponsors and victims of crimes in a Senate panel on Thursday.

These credits in SB 861 , SB 862 , SB 863 and SB 864 would allow earlier consideration for parole with a capped number of credits, according to testimony in the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee .

Some of these programs look like GED programs and vocation programs to have stability post-release.

"Good time" credits, which allowed for good behavior in prison to lead to the release of the prisoner, were abolished with truth-in-sentencing laws in 1990s, which made certain to victims they would know with certainty that someone who attacked them was being released.

One of the questions in the panel from Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake) was the constitutionality of the bill package and whether it would need a three-fourths majority in both legislative houses because it would amend a voter-initiated act. Supporters of the bills have disputed the notion three-fourths majorities would be required.

John Cutler, managing director of state policy and research for the Alliance for Safety and Justice, said there should be no issue of constitutionality because the bill is simply not "good time" credits, they are credits made from specifically passing programs set up for prisoners.

"This has been something that's been badly needed in our prisons, particularly to do two things," Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said in testifying for his bill. "One to enhance safety within our prisons, for both adults who work there and for the folks who are incarcerated, but also to create incentives that will encourage prisoners to develop themselves, earn new skills and be in a position to be more successful when they get out."

The bills would not be retroactive, only dealing with new crimes, and would not be offered to criminals convicted of murder, human trafficking or sex offenses.

The Parole Board would also oversee the final decision making in this process.

Still, law enforcement and Attorney General Dana Nessel are among key opponents of the legislation. The House has considered similar legislation.

One of the main supporters of the bill was members of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, saying they supported the bill because victims would be informed every step of the way and would not continue the cycle of bad behavior after getting out of prison.

Priscilla Bordayo is a state manager for the crime survivors' organization and a survivor herself. She said the common thread among all survivors is that they never want it to happen to anyone else, and she believes these bills will make Michigan safer.

She told a story about her cousin being killed in a drive by shooting and her uncle having to answer to a Parole Board hearing about the man that killed his daughter.

"My uncle, her father, responded to his possible release by asking a simple question: is he a changed man?" Bordayo said. "That's what he cared most about. He knew that if the defendant had redeemed himself in his debt to society, we would all be better off and safer. Redemption and rehabilitation are the foundation for safety."

Forty other states have these standards for prisoners. Gary Mohr, the former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, studied the effects of productivity credits in his own state for three years, seeing that those who completed programs including mental health programs had less violence while in prison and a reduced recidivism rate.

"If we can invest our programs and staff to deliver programs that reduce that opportunity to people that have already committed felonies, then we have a significant opportunity to reduce the crime rate based on that population," Mohr said.

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