LANSING--The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today announced the launch of a new project aimed at reducing the state’s incarceration rate, which is 31 percent higher than the Midwest average.

Through legislative advocacy and public education, the Fair Justice/Smart Justice Michigan campaign will focus on:

  • Reforming Michigan’s sentencing guidelines
  • Support for presumptive parole
  • Elimination of racial bias in the criminal justice system
  • Increased and improved use of specialty courts for substance abusers and the mentally ill
  • Expanded resources for successful re-entry
  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility

“Put simply, Michigan has a prison problem,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We spend too much money incarcerating too many of our fellow citizens, particularly minorities. We keep them locked up too long, and we don’t spend our money where it can do the most good – on helping inmates successfully re-enter and become productive members of society. Michigan simply can’t afford the current approach any longer. There are better ways.”

According to a 2014 report by the Council of State Governments, Michigan spends one of every five dollars on corrections. It costs $5 million a day, or $2 billion a year, to run Michigan's prison system, whose population stands at 50,200 and is projected to top 56,000 within five years.

Moss said the Fair Justice/Smart Justice campaign will work with communities and lawmakers across the state to identify and address local concerns. Incentivizing smart practices, eliminating unnecessary incarcerations and investing in better systems are among the policies the project will pursue to reform Michigan’s system.

“We need to incentivize smart and fair practices like keeping people in the community when they don’t pose a threat,” Moss said. “We also need to stop locking up so many people for nonviolent drug or property crimes or for simply not paying a fine. It’s not sustainable.” 

Moss said that the Fair Justice/Smart Justice campaign will become a useful resource for the newly formed Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration, which is comprised of a broad and diverse collection of organizations and individuals committed to addressing prison issues. Problems like mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness, she added, are more appropriately addressed outside the criminal justice system altogether. Services like drug treatment and affordable housing cost less and can have a better record of success.

“It’s time we got serious about pulling our money out of incarceration and putting it into systems that foster healthy communities,” Moss said.

To learn more about Smart Justice/Fair Justice Michigan, go here.