Updated: Oct 20
Michigan has many things we can be proud of. However, its internationally known reputation for harsh, lengthy prison sentences is not one of them. Especially when the prison terms involve youths who are given life sentences without parole. Michigan is the state with the largest number of prisoners without parole. Michigan also has more juveniles serving a life-without-parole sentence than any other state.
The Michigan Justice Advocacy group is pushing to reinstate the Good Time Provision, a program that allows for time off for good behavior in determining parole eligibility. Before 1978, when a ballot initiative ended the previous credit-for-good-behavior-system, a person could have their sentence shortened by meeting certain criteria. Completing educational programs such as getting a High School diploma or achieving a higher education degree would provide disciplinary credits. So would taking part in vocational programs like training dogs for the blind, or various job trainings. Successfully completing anger management programs would also help to chip away at a lengthy sentence.
However, in 1998, the Truth in Sentencing Law eliminated all possibilities for disciplinary credits. It is currently required that when a juvenile is given a life sentence without parole, they serve out 100% of their minimum sentence. A recent study revealed that when a juvenile’s sentence is reduced because they have met certain requirements preparing them for a better life on the outside, the recidivism rate is only 1%. The youth can acquire skills to prepare them for a productive life while they are incarcerated, instead of languishing for their entire life without hope of reintegration and redemption. It is expensive to keep citizens in prison. Providing programs while they are incarcerated would cost much less than housing them for decades.
Some more serious crimes would keep a person from qualifying for this program. There is no effort to change that.
There are two Good Time bills currently being presented in Lansing – SB 119-23 and HB 4160-64. And the Michigan Justice Advocacy group is circulating petitions to allow prisoners to obtain Good Time credits. The local Before, During, and After Incarceration group is circulating these petitions. Look for them at Farmer’s Markets and Art Fairs.
If you see your local representatives, ask them to join the efforts to push through these bills. If you have a personal story, share it in a Letter to the Editor. Talk with your friends and neighbors about this important effort.
A situation like this may not have entered your family. However, all our neighborhoods can benefit from programs that will better equip our youth to live a quality, productive life.
Written by Keli MacIntosh of Traverse Indivisible