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Criminal justice groups frustrated with lack of action rally in Lansing

Interior of the state Capitol's rotunda.
Lester Graham
Michigan Public

Advocates called on state lawmakers to pass a series of stalled criminal justice reform bills during a rally in Lansing on Tuesday.

Some pieces of the legislation include bills to end the practice of sentencing young people to life in prison without parole, allow for incarcerated people to shorten their prison terms by earning good time and productivity credits, and providing a chance for resentencing after ten years.

Alexandra Bailey is with the Sentencing Project. She called it “common sense policy.”

“The time for excuses is over. [Lawmakers] can’t claim that they haven’t been educated on our issues. They know what the stats are. They know what the racism problem is. They know what the gender problem is. They are aware of what harm has been done to community here in Michigan,” she said.

Still, the legislation could face an uphill battle getting passed.

Republicans and some Democrats have voiced skepticism and concerns about how some of the proposals could affect crime victims.

Throughout the nearly three-hour event, multiple speakers criticized lawmakers, especially Democrats in the legislative majority, for not doing more to pass criminal justice bills that have been stuck.

Shawanna Vaughn is with the group Silent Cry. She said it’s time for lawmakers to face electoral consequences for not passing the legislation.

“Stop letting people tell you stuff that they don’t represent in the vote. Look at what they voted for on their voting record. And if they did not vote for criminal justice, do not vote for them,” Vaughn said.

Around 10 Democratic state lawmakers were on the speaking agenda for Tuesday’s event at the Anderson House Office Building. None appeared.

Organizers and Democrats said other commitments and meetings got in the way.

Budget talks are taking up a lot of lawmakers’ focus this week. But a spokesperson for House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit) said it’s possible criminal justice reform bills could still see a vote later this year.

“We’ll see likely many different priorities come up when we are finished with the budget and back to session after summer. So I wouldn’t be surprised if criminal justice is one of those things that gets further work,” Amber McCann said.

There are about five weeks’ worth of session days scheduled between now and the November 5 general election.