Northern Michigan Sheriff, Addiction Treatment Services Discuss Federal Prison Reform Legislation

A major criminal justice reform bill has cleared the U.S. Senate and is likely headed for President Trump’s desk.

The bill would lower mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug convictions, give judges more discretion during sentencing for certain drug crimes and work to increase access to drug treatment.

Right now this would only impact federal prisoners, but many think some of what’s outlined in the first step act could make its way to the state level

The prison reform legislation moving through Washington deals with inmates housed in federal prisons, but is drawing support from law enforcement here in northern Michigan, including Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel.

“Anything that’s violent obviously I’m opposed to letting folks out, but these nonviolent offenders that may have come into the system for the first or second time, let’s give them an opportunity to make amends and better themselves.,” said Schendel.

Schendel says the discretion this legislation gives judges in sentencing certain cases could eventually trickle down to the state level.

“It’s going to save the federal government money, and if it happens here at the state level, it’s going to save the state money and you couple that with trying to help people, it’s a win win,” said Schendel.

Addiction Treatments Services in Traverse City hopes this legislation leads to more people getting time in treatment and not just prison.

“While it’s at a federal level, we hope we see this happening in states across the nation in the long run. I think what this is really showing, is people are realizing addiction is a disease and indeed it really needs to be treated like one. So putting people in jail is not providing them a long term solution to sobriety and recovery,” said ADS Director of Communication and Outreach Kate Kerr.

The bill still has to head to the house where it’s expected to pass later this week and President Trump is expected to sign it.