2019 ushers in a highly anticipated change in the state political environment. The election of a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state alongside a majority-Republican Legislature will divide the branches of government for the first time in nearly a decade. Happily, however, there is one issue where consensus should be easy to reach: Michigan’s continuing need for smart criminal justice reform.
The state made several great strides on this issue under Republican leadership, drawing national attention and developing a new reputation as an innovative leader in corrections and re-entry. Now, Republicans may be tempted to halt that progress to prevent a Democratic governor from receiving credit for successfully implementing additional reforms — but they should resist. As some of Michigan’s most prominent business leaders have repeatedly argued and demonstrated by example, our state’s families, workforce and neighborhoods stand to make real gains when we reform our courts, police and corrections policies. In this area, more than many others, policy changes can save and redeem lives.
Empowering judges to get to the root causes of crime by using specialty drug, sobriety and mental health courts helps stop the cycle of offending and re-offending, for instance. Providing prisoners opportunities to get diplomas, degrees and vocational certifications reduces recidivism and helps employers close the talent gap. Getting more police officers out of patrol cars and onto foot patrols helps them gain the trust of the communities they serve and resolve cases more quickly. All of these advances and more have been made possible in the last few years by a wealth of reliable data and the willingness to act on it with anyone who wants to help. It would be tragic to let politics get in the way now.
For our part, the Mackinac Center will continue taking a balanced, data-driven perspective on the policy choices that will make us freer, safer and more prosperous. We will continue identifying areas where the poor are disproportionately burdened by processes meant to serve all people equally. We will continue to condemn government overreach. We will continue to call for more transparency about how money flows in the justice system and for better accountability for our court and corrections officials, so they will rule justly and rehabilitate effectively.
In the couple of years that the criminal justice department has been active, we’ve struck on an effective model to expand the Overton Window, and you’ll see it in action again in the new year. Look for novel, peer-reviewed research, another roster of Issues & Ideas Forums on pressing topics within the criminal justice field, and a steady supply of commentary, op-eds, media interviews and coalition-building. Our robust, influential network of partners has become one of the hallmarks of this initiative, and we hope it serves as a model for all Michiganders to reach across the aisle and do the work of making our state a better place.