(Thursday - April 01, 2021) - A new Michigan law, which takes effect today (Thursday), will result in many fewer people being hauled off to jail for minor, non-violent offenses.

The new bi-partisan law is the result of recommendations made by the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. The task force was charged with proposing ways by which the State's local jail population can be reduced, thus also reducing costs.

Under previous law, police officers had discretion in whether to issue a citation to appear in court, or to make a physical arrest, which results in incarceration. Police had that discretion in any non-violent situation where the penalty would be punishable to up to 93 days in jail.

Under the new law, most misdemeanors and ordinance violations which carry a penalty of up to one year in jail are eligible for a citation, rather than incarceration.

There will be situations which would not qualify for a citation, resulting in an arrest. These include serious misdemeanors, assaultive crimes, and offenses involving domestic violence.

Officers will also have the discretion to make a physical arrest for other reasons that the officer deems "reasonable." However, these reasons will need to be documented to the court, in order to justify such an arrest.

The law also stipulates situations in which an arrest will be justified:

- When as subject refuses to follow an officer's instructions.

- When someone doesn't provide identification.

- If there's a likelihood that the offense would continue or resume after the person's release.

- When the person presents a danger to someone else or themselves.

The law will have varying effect across the State, depending on the previous practices of police. Many departments had long ago adopted a "community policing" policy, in which jail was the last resort. Others have maintained a policy of making physical arrests in almost any situation. That practice will stop.

Advocates say even a few hours spent in jail can upend someone's life and lead to the loss of employment or custody of children.

The task force found that many individuals are irreparably harmed by even a short stay behind bars. The harm can come in the form of loss of employment, loss of the ability to become re-employed, loss of family, and continuing economic damage.

Many psychologists claim that the very act of being locked up, "the door being locked," can result in post traumatic syndrome, which can affect the individual for the remainder of their life.

Earl Burton, relational organizer for the nonprofit Michigan Liberation, said the effects of being arrested for a low-level offense can be "devastating."

Several local police departments, notably the City of Kingsford, already practice effective community policing. The change in arrest policy is expected to have little effect in those communities.

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