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Petition: Allow Incarcerated Michiganders to Earn Time Off Sentences

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022   

A prospective ballot initiative in Michigan would allow people in prison to earn time off their sentences through work training, earning a college degree or participating in anger-management or drug-treatment programs.

The Good Time Initiative would mean earning credit toward completion of a person's sentence or the time until they'd be eligible for parole.

Machelle Pearson was sentenced to life without parole in Michigan when she was 17. She was released in 2018 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that indiscriminately sentencing juveniles to life terms is unconstitutional. Pearson said the ability to earn time off a sentence would bring hope to many in Michigan prisons.

"They said that this is supposed to be a system of rehabilitation. It's not," she said. "If we don't choose to rehabilitate ourself and come out here and be productive, it's not going to happen - because the system is not doing it. They're locking them up; they're throwing away the key."

Groups are working to collect the 450,000 signatures needed by May 15 to get the Good Time Initiative on the ballot. Forty-four other states have similar policies, but Michigan has a "Truth in Sentencing" law that requires people convicted of certain felonies to complete their full sentence.

Durrel Douglas, founder and executive director of Houston Justice, used to work in the Texas Department of Corrections. Texas allows prisoners to earn time off their sentence, and Douglas said he saw firsthand how that opportunity positively affected them. He said he thinks earning "good time" would not only be positive for people serving time but also for the state of Michigan, since returning citizens would have more skills to contribute to their communities.

"If we really, truly want to end mass incarceration, if we really truly want to provide that light at the end of the tunnel - that inspires good behavior, that keeps us safe, that lowers tensions behind bars," he said, "we've got to get this done."

The average annual cost to keep one person in a Michigan state prison for a year is more than 40-thousand dollars, and one out of five taxpayer dollars is spent on corrections.


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