Sen. Marty Knollenberg
Sen. Marty Knollenberg

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Senate on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation aimed at reforming the state’s criminal justice system.

“Michigan needs a criminal justice system that helps rehabilitate prisoners, not encourages a continuous cycle of incarceration,” said state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy. “We also need to work on reducing costs and increasing the safety of corrections officers and the communities that house our state’s prisons.”

Senate Bills 5-24 and 50 would make reforms throughout the entire criminal justice system. The package addresses issues facing prisoners, individuals who are on probation or parole, and those working on integrating back to society.

Among the reforms included in the package are ways to better track and evaluate recidivism data, expedite medical commutation hearings and encourage volunteer programs that are beneficial to prisoners and could aid in their transition back to society.

“We’re basically starting from square one. We’re looking at what needs to be fixed and addressing the problems one-by-one,” Knollenberg said. “We’ve done our homework. We’ve looked at what other states are doing and we’ve looked at the data and I think most of this package is common sense based on what we found.”

The proposals would also reform the probation process by limiting the revocation time that a probation violator would serve for technical violations, allowing judges to shorten a probation term as a result of good behavior and offering an incentive to probation agents and supervisors to keep probationers out of prison.

Knollenberg argues that these reforms are needed because our prisons are not properly rehabilitating prisoners, but rather turning out career criminals.

“Around 50 percent of Michigan’s prisoners are repeat offenders. I think we need to focus on helping people better themselves so we can break the cycle and offer them a chance at a better life,” Knollenberg said. “The data also shows that of our state’s 42,000 prisoners, up to 38,000 will eventually return to our communities. We need to make sure prisoners are prepared for this transition and will pose no harm to society, or they simply will wind up back in the system.”

The bills now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.