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criminal justice

MORGAN SPRINGER / Interlochen Public Radio


(Editor’s note: we recommend you listen to the story.)

In March 2001, Fred Williams left his friend Tanya Davis’ house to get groceries. He was 17 and living on the west side of Detroit. Fred says he weighed two options before he left.

“I had Hometown Groceries on Joy Road and Wyoming,” Fred recalls, “or I had Foodarama on Livernois and Julian.”

BURGOS/JIMENEZ FAMILY

(Editor’s note: we recommend you listen to this story.) 

Jose Burgos was 16 years old when he shot and killed Omar Kaji. It happened during a bogus drug deal in 1991 in southwest Detroit. 

“The whole plan was, we’re going to make it look like – from the outside looking in – there’s 10 pounds of marijuana in this bag,” says Jose.

The Macomb County Jail has a chronic overcrowding problem. And that can make for dangerous conditions for inmates. Experts say jail overcrowding is linked to higher rates of violence, illness, and suicide.

18 people have died in the Macomb County Jail since 2012. This is one woman's story.

And perhaps the biggest factor contributing to overcrowding – which is a chronic issue for lots of jails, not just Macomb's – is the courts.

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Sentencing people to prison instead of probation can have some long-lasting effects, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan.

It found that if you're convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison rather than probation, you're more likely to go back to prison.

From left to right: Special Prosecutor Jaimie Powell-Horowitz, Fair Michigan Justice Project President Dana Nessel, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Fair Michigan Justice Project (FMJP), a collaboration between the LGBTQ advocacy group Fair Michigan and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, began a little over a year ago, in July 2016.

It marks an important new approach to pursuing hate crimes committed against people who are LGBTQ. And it's especially noteworthy today, as this week the Michigan Civil Rights Commission declined a request to add protections for LGBTQ people to the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act, a law designed to prohibit discrimination in our state.

michigan state capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Tomorrow morning, the Michigan Court of Claims will hear a lawsuit filed by Oakland County. The county is challenging new criminal defense standards for defendants who are too poor to afford a lawyer.

These new standards were created by a panel appointed by Governor Snyder. The idea was to set up uniform standards throughout the state. Each county is supposed to draw up a compliance plan and submit it to the state by mid-November. 

Oakland County, however, is asking the judge for a stay on the issue.

collection of photos
STEVE CARMODY, JODI WESTRICK, AND THOMAS HAWK. / MICHIGAN RADIO AND FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

When it comes to re-sentencing inmates who were sentenced to life without parole as juveniles, Michigan is lagging behind just about every other state.

Back in December, we brought you a series of stories about the juvenile lifers in Michigan prisons.

We dug into how Michigan prosecutors have responded to a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that made it very clear that mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles are unconstitutional.

RANDOM HOUSE, PENGUIN RANDON HOUSE LLC, NEW YORK

A decision to join Teach for America brought then 22-year-old Michelle Kuo to the Mississippi Delta. Her hope was to teach American history through black literature. It was a very different life than the one she'd had growing up as the daughter of parents who’d emigrated from Taiwan to West Michigan. 

Brian Turner / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

It's called "pay or stay:" jailing people who can't afford to pay a fine.

It's a controversial issue nationwide. Critics say pay or stay sentencing has created a 21st-century version of debtors' prisons.

In May of 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court announced rule changes designed to keep people out of jail just because they cannot pay court fines. But a Bridge Magazine investigation finds that's exactly what's happening in the weekly collections docket at the 36th District Court in Detroit.

Rich Girard / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

A former federal prosecutor is calling for an independent special counsel to investigate any ties between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, now the President Trump has fired the director of the FBI.

University of Michigan Professor Rosina Bierbaum says scandals like Flint's water crisis have eroded public trust in the safety of drinking water
Courtesy of Raiz Up

Three years ago this week, officials switched Flint's water source to the Flint River, sparking the water crisis there. The river wasn't properly treated, and began corroding lead water pipes, which then leached lead into the drinking water.

Senior News Analyst Jack Lessenberry talks to Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about why it took the city so long to listen to residents' concerns. 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.
Wikipedia

A new bill introduced by Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters proposes a comprehensive review of the U.S. criminal justice system. The bill has received bipartisan support, as well as the support of many major police organizations and civil rights groups.

"When you combine all the support, I believe that's the kind of coalition necessary to give this commission the political power to see it's recommendations actually enacted into law," Peters said. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Expanding Medicaid was a key part of the Affordable Care Act. In our state, it's known as Healthy Michigan, and it has meant health care coverage for more than 600,000 people.

But if you wind up in the criminal justice system, even if its just pre-trial detention, Medicaid benefits turn off immediately.

Researchers at the University of Michigan say excluding inmates from Medicaid is driving up costs and hurting the health of inmates.

Shayan Sanyal / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Michigan is on its way toward sweeping changes in its criminal justice system. The state House passed a large package of legislation Wednesday. 

The bills would, among other things, provide more data collection on recidivism, allow reduction in probation time in some cases, and programming for youth rehabilitation.

 

Michael Coghlan / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Too many people are being incarcerated with too few opportunities to better themselves when they are released. That was the message of advocates and lawmakers who gathered today in Lansing.

It was part of the first National Day of Empathy, and advocates working to reform Michigan's incarceration and criminal justice laws gathered in Lansing for panel discussions and workgroups.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Michigan senators are making a big push for prison and parole reform this year.

Over 20 of the 52 bills introduced during session last week were about criminal justice changes.

Several of the bills focus on probation and parole violations. They would change penalties for probationers that commit technical probation violation and discontinue services to parole absconders.

Republican Senator Rick Jones is the main sponsor of a couple of the bills and a former sheriff. He said they have been working on the package for a while.

Charles Lewis at a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit man sentenced to life without parole for a 1977 murder is entitled to a new sentence.

But efforts just to start that process have stalled again because of missing court files.

Charles Lewis was only 17 when he was convicted in the robbery-murder of an off-duty Detroit police officer.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two recent cases that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional, except in the “rarest” cases.

Lewis is one of more than 300 Michigan “juvenile lifers” now awaiting re-sentencing, which should mean at least a shot at parole.

More than 60 people have been exonerated in Michigan since 1989, according to the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan.
Dave Nakayama/Flickr

There’s a question Dave Moran asks whenever he gives talks about his work at the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic.

"If the state said, ‘We’re going to lock you up for something you didn’t do. We’re going to frame you, or just be sloppy with our job … And then after one year, we’ll announce that we made a mistake and we’ll set you free.’ How much would it take for you to agree to that?

steve carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Legislature returns for voting this week after a three-month summer break, with plans for an abbreviated calendar before the crucial November election determines which party controls the House.

  Both chambers will have three weeks in session before the election, or nine days.

  There could be a lot on the docket, but lawmakers may leave until the post-election "lame duck" period final resolution of high-priority items such as energy and criminal justice legislation.

Derek Key / flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is warning against the possible release of some convicted teenage killers, saying it could spark an “unparalleled deadly crime spree.”

The US Supreme Court has ordered states to re-sentence all people sent to prison for mandatory life without parole as juveniles, saying that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Senate bills propose plan to cut recidivism

May 5, 2016
Michael Coghlan / Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A bi-partisan package of criminal justice reform bills were introduced in the Michigan Senate this week. They are aimed at helping people who come out of  prison stay out.

According to Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, half of the state's prison population is made up of parole and probation violators.

"There are some modernizing changes that need to be made so that rehabilitation for parolees and probationers is the centerpiece of what we do," said Proos. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Drones have many uses. But Michigan lawmakers want to discourage one in particular: delivering contraband to state prison inmates.

Across the country in recent months, people trying to smuggle all kinds of things into prisons have turned to drones. 

Justice statue
Flickr user Jack / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Access to Justice Clinic at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and the 61st District Court are teaming up to help give some criminals a second chance.

Legal experts at the event next week will offer one-on-one legal consultations to help people determine whether their crimes are eligible for expungement.

Gavel
Flickr/Joe Gratz / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

Traffic tickets and low-level misdemeanors aren’t supposed to ruin lives and cost taxpayers millions.

For most of these offenses, paying a fine or arguing a case before a judge should be a fairly straightforward, low-hassle matter.

Yet there are plenty of reasons why these minor violations end up as major problems.

Andrew Bossi / Creative Commons

Women are being arrested more frequently than they were 20 years ago.

A new study from Michigan State University says arrests have increased 26.7% since 1993, while arrests for violent crimes have jumped 53.2%.

Steve Buissinne / Creative Commons

Law enforcement officials in Detroit today announced a new initiative to curb the city's gun violence.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is partnering with the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to step up federal prosecution for violent felons caught with guns.

That means lengthier sentences for offenders.

User: Michigan State Spartans / facebook

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s air gun legislation veto, a new criminal justice commission, and legislation that forbids Michigan public university athletes from unionizing.


Some graffiti found on a Midtown Detroit youth center this week evokes recent incidents of violence and tension between police and civilians--and it's being condemned as inflammatory by both police and community groups.

Eighteen years ago, I was teaching a large “survey of the media” class at Wayne State University when word came that there was a verdict in the O.J. Simpson case. I put television on.

This was a Wayne State University class with almost equal numbers of black and white students. When it was announced that OJ had been acquitted of the murders of his wife and her friend, the reaction seemed almost Pavlovian.

The white students were openly disgusted. The black ones, pleased. Times have changed. Today, we have a black President. 

But my guess is that if I had been teaching a similar class when the Trayvon Martin verdict was announced, I would have seen something like a mirror image. Certainly the African-Americans would have been outraged; though I am not sure the white students would have been all that pleased with George Zimmerman’s acquittal.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The State Senate Judiciary Committee takes up bills today that would greatly change Michigan’s indigent defense system.   

James Samuels is the president of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan.    He says the current system Michigan uses to provide attorneys for poor defendants is “broken”.

Samuels likes the proposed changes, including the way attorneys get contracts to represent indigent defendants.

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