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On Wednesday July 24th, the first meeting of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jails and Pretrial Incarceration took place at Wayne State Law School. Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist introduced the purpose of the task force, which is to make policy recommendations based on data being compiled by Pew Research, community input, and the task force’s experience in the field. Following opening statements, every member of the task force introduced themself and the work that they do. DJC’s founding ED Amanda Alexander addressed the audience in the room with the following statement:

I am Amanda Alexander, Founding Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center. I am honored to undertake the work of this Task Force, and to represent pre-trial service organizations. As a lawyer and a student of history, I know that when people turn personal pain into collective courage they can change the course of history. I believe that is what this Task Force has the opportunity to do. 

I am here because I’ve understood the harm that jails and prisons do to families since I was six years old when my father was incarcerated. I share that fact not because it makes me unique, but because it is so common. Half of all adults in the US have had an immediate family member in jail or prison. Incarceration impacts so many of us—from Detroit to Muskegon to Marquette. If you’ve been inside, or have had a loved one inside, and it’s what brought you here this morning, please know that your experiences give you crucial insight into this system. You know better than anyone the toll it’s taken on your families and communities, and I want to thank you for being here today, and encourage you to come to future meetings, reach out to the Task Force, and hold all of us accountable.

My organization, the Detroit Justice Center, provides free legal services to individuals at both ends of the legal system—from pre-trial to re-entry. Our attorneys help our clients clear fines, fees, tickets, warrants, suspended licenses, and more—so that they can stay out of jail and at home, keep their children, and keep their jobs. The Detroit Justice Center also houses Michigan’s first revolving bail fund, and the Bail Project team has bailed out more than 200 people from the Wayne County Jail since last year. Over 60% of people sitting in jail in Wayne County right now are there pretrial, and they are having their lives up-ended simply because they can’t afford to pay bail. This happens day in, day out. This is the system we’ve built. We can do better.

I am here because incarceration is always a policy failure. We have a once in a generation opportunity to change the policies that drive our people into jails and drive our families and communities into poverty. If we get this right—if we get it right—people three generations from now just might thank us—all of us—for helping to end the era of mass criminalization and human caging, and charting a path to true safety and freedom. Getting this right means the world to me.  

The task force’s opening remarks were followed by a brief preview national data on jails and incarceration from Pew. Members of the task force were able to pinpoint areas where they would want more specific data related to MI jails if possible. While this meeting was not open for public comment, future meetings will be (they’re listed below) and we encourage community members to continue to attend and make their voices heard. This first meeting was covered in Bridge Magazine, The Detroit News, and The Center Square.

Future Task Force Meetings

Aug. 23 Task Force meeting 2: Traverse City

Meeting:  9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; public testimony:  1:30-4 p.m.

Sept. 20 Task Force meeting 3: Grand Rapids

Meeting:  9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.; public testimony:  1:30-4 p.m.

Oct. 18 Task Force meeting 4: Detroit

Meeting:  9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; public testimony:  1:30-4 p.m.

Nov. 19 Task Force meeting 5: Lansing

Meeting:  10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; public testimony:  1:30-4 p.m.

Jan. 9 Task Force meeting 6: Lansing

9:30-11 a.m., final report and recommendations released

Casey Rocheteau