LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – In Michigan, things are looking up for prisoners who want to get out of jail early. Already, prisoners in the state who have committed murders as juveniles and received life sentences are allowed to have their case sentences re-assessed after both the federal government and Michigan judges have declared that mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile offenders are unconstitutional.

Juveniles sentenced to life for murder granted opportunity for re-sentencing.

These rulings have resulted in convicted murderers like Ivory Thomas getting out of prison after his 1965 felony murder conviction in the murder of 18-year-old Michael Railsback during a robbery. Thomas was offered the opportunity for a new sentence and because of his “applicable credits” being applied to his new sentence, he was released immediately in February of this year.

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Legislation introduced to allow Michigan prisoners with life sentences to request shorter sentences.

Additionally, Democratic lawmakers in Michigan have legislation waiting in the wings that would allow prisoners in Michigan who are sentenced to life in prison to request a shorter sentence after serving 10 years.

New plan: productivity credits for prisoners to receive early release.

And now, we have have yet another new “justice reform” strategy coming down the pike from Michigan Democrats that would let prisoners out of jail early called “productivity credits.” This legislation would allow certain inmates under the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Correction (MDOC) to be eligible to shorten their prison terms by demonstrating proactive efforts and achieving personal growth during their incarceration.

One lone Michigan Republican is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The productivity credit legislation, designated as Senate Bill 861, was introduced on Tuesday, May 7th, by Democratic Senator John Cherry. This bill, which is referred to as being “bipartisan” has the backing of eight Democrats and one lone Republican – Senator Edward McBroom. The legislation now rests in the hands of the Committee on Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety for further deliberation.

What’s in the bill?

The bill allows some prisoners a chance to earn days off their total sentences if they successfully complete educational and vocational programs approved by the MDOC. Productivity credits would be subtracted from a prisoner’s minimum and maximum sentence to determine their eligibility for parole and discharge dates.

Participation in vocational or educational programs would grant 90 days off a sentence, with an additional 20 days earned per month of continued enrollment. Completing a high school diploma, certificate, or higher education degree can earn prisoners 120 days.

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Certain restrictions apply: no productivity credits are earned during months with major misconduct findings, and credits awarded cannot exceed 20% of the minimum sentence. And prisoners ineligible for productivity credits include those with life sentences without parole and individuals convicted of serious crimes like murder and criminal sexual conduct.

Lawmakers explain support.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), a co-sponsor of the legislation, says the program will help people be more successful when they are released. He said, “If we believe in rehabilitation, if we believe in the idea that our prisons are places where we’re working toward rehabilitation, then it’s important that we bring back some of these policies that can help promote positive behavior.”

In a press release, Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) says about the legislation, “Productivity Credits that incentivize people in prison to complete rehabilitation programs benefit everyone. By helping people become connected to, rather than marginalized from, the communities they’re returning to, we create safer neighborhoods.”

Republican Edward McBroom (R-Waucedah Twp.) adds, “If we are going to reduce crime, we must stop repeat crime. Prisoners who complete Productivity Credits are better prepared to return to their communities as engaged, employed members of society who do not re-offend and create new victims. This program offers a strong incentive to complete programming that has been proven to reduce reoffending.”

Just the beginning…

More opportunities could arise for prisoners in the future, however, as the bill also says, “The department of corrections may, at its sole discretion, approve additional programs for a prisoner to earn productivity credits” if research and evidence indicates the program “improves rehabilitation, behavioral, or post-release prisoner outcomes.” Those credits would be awarded in a 10, 15 or 20 day allotment for each month of voluntary enrollment in the program.

Democrats are up against a previous law and ballot initiative that doesn’t allow for the reduction of prison sentences.

According to WVPE, Michigan voters ended the possibility for this kind of situation in 1978 via a ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly with 74.48% support. The initiative prohibited prisoners convicted of certain crimes from being granted parole prior to serving the minimum sentence imposed for the crime.

There is also a 1998 “Truth in Sentencing” legislation which mandates full minimum sentence completion for all prisoners.

WVPE reports that technically, a prisoner’s sentence cannot be shortened because of the state’s Truth in Sentencing law and add that the 1978 ballot initiative would most likely result in the requirement of a three-fourths supermajority vote for lawmakers to pass any bill that would change that.

They further report the semantics of the situation and how the Democrats would most likely get around any restrictions as such: “Technically a sentence cannot be shortened. These production credits would allow a prisoner to enable ‘earlier release.’”