Task force urges reducing jail populations amid outbreak


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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A state task force has suggested ways to continue to safely reduce jail populations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a news release, the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration applauded the work already done by officials to reduce the amount people in jails across the state and urged them to continue making steps forward. 

The task force says the threat of COVID-19 is high in jails for the inmates and correctional officers due to people being in confined spaces and the number of people that come through.

“The presumption of release pending trial doesn’t just affect a defendant’s liberty – it affects their health. This is truer than ever before. Keeping people at home, when it’s safe to do so, can help protect inmates and corrections officers from an outbreak in our jails and save lives,” said State Court Administrator Tom Boyd in a prepared statement

In July, the task force started working on ways to safely decrease the number of people in jail and expand alternatives to incarceration, which includes handling most traffic offenses as a civil matter, diverting those with behavioral health needs from the criminal justice system and using probation for low-level crimes. 

The task force says not only these steps would reduce the threat of COVID-19 but allow law enforcement to spend more resources to address bigger threats to public safety.

“Many of the Jails Task Force recommendations are now already being followed to safely shrink our jail populations,” said Lt. Jim Miller, of the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office in a release. “These changes aren’t just smart during emergencies, they’re proven policies that should continue long after the coronavirus has gone.”

This week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an order that allowed local officials to be more flexible on releasing inmates who are vulnerable to the virus and do not pose a threat to public safety. 

The task force is co-chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. Other members include judges, lawmakers, law enforcement, attorneys and advocates. 

All the task force’s recommendations can be found online

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