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MEMORANDUM: Jail & Pretrial Incarceration Reforms Necessary for Business, Workforce Development

MEMORANDUM: Jail & Pretrial Incarceration Reforms Necessary for Business, Workforce Development

To:                   The Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration

From:              Grand Rapids Chamber

Subject:           Jail & Pretrial Incarceration Reforms Necessary for Business, Workforce Development

Date:                September 2019


Crime rates are the lowest Michigan has seen in more than 50 years, and yet our jail population has tripled. Historically low crime presents an opportunity; a moment for innovation, realignment of our investments, and shared prosperity. On any given day, most people detained in Michigan’s jails are detained pretrial, while they’re still presumed innocent, because they cannot afford to pay bail or are there for non-criminal administrative violations such as missed court dates, technical probation violations, and unpaid tickets.

These practices unnecessarily disrupt our businesses, destabilizing the individual’s productivity and the productivity of their employer. Over the past decade, as Michigan has worked to decrease its large incarcerated population, the business community has played a significant role in leading the conversation. As the state’s reform focus shifts to the front-end of the justice system with the formation of the bipartisan Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, the business community reaffirms its commitment to a smarter justice system.


Shared Statement of Principles

As Task Force members and state leaders begin to address jail incarceration, we urge them to keep these four principles front-of-mind:

The fastest route out of crime is a job.

Businesses thrive in safe and healthy communities. Crime and recidivism are closely linked with economic instability, and while our state has made strides to support reentry into the workforce, our arrest and bail policies disrupt employment on the front end and can kick-start a cycle of unemployment and criminality. In this time of a large and growing talent gap, we need every able-bodied person to be working. It not only makes our communities more prosperous, it also makes us safer. A stable career is a proven way to keep recidivism rates down and is the stepping stone to a fulfilled life.

Jail is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Confining a person in jail, taking them away from work and their family, should be reserved for only for those who are an immediate threat to public safety. Jail is not a place that cures addiction or can treat mental illness. Even a short stay in jail often leaves individuals and their families less able to find or retain employment, housing or medical care. Our laws should promote decisions that keep people in the community and contributing to society whenever it is safe to do so.

Use Data and Evidence-Based Solutions.

Anecdotes cannot be the basis for writing laws. Policy decisions must be driven by data and carefully weighed risk and rehabilitation. Like in business, we must value innovation and rely on expertise to guide the way. Just like any inventory system, we must first understand and examine the contents of our jails and why they are full. We should consider safe alternatives to jail and pretrial incarceration, implement programs proven to reduce re-offending, and examine best practices to increase the likelihood that workers will succeed in future employment opportunities.

No one should ever be in jail because they are poor.

It does not align with our values to keep poor people in jail because of unpaid bail, fees, or fines, while those with access to more resources are able to walk free. It’s inequitable, counter-productive for our community’s economic strength, and hurts families and communities. In America, no one should be denied freedom because they cannot pay for it. This mindset keeps those individuals in an unfortunate cycle of poverty and crime. Pre-jail reform policies should consider the benefit of a stable career for that individual instead of creating barriers to employment and self-sufficiency.


The Grand Rapids Chamber applauds the taskforce’s commitment to this important issue and your work to create a smart and fair criminal justice system.


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