Timeline Shows Area Counties Follow Different Patterns for Felony Sentencing

Throughout this series on data for felony offenders sentenced in Southeastern Michigan we’ve focused on the percentage of offenders sentenced to prison, jail, a combination of jail and probation, or probation. This post allows us to further examine what trends there may be in sentencing in each of the seven counties. This data was provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections and focuses on years 2011 and 2017; the data prior to 2011 was reported differently and therefor not included.

The first chart below shows how Macomb County has consistently had the lowest percentage of felony offenders sentenced to prison since 2011, and that percentage has been decreasing in recent years. Similar to Macomb County, most of the other counties in the region have recently experienced a decrease in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to prison. Washtenaw County experienced the largest decrease in felony offenders sentenced to prison between 2011 and 2017; that percentage decreased from 23.7 percent to 18 percent.  In that same time frame Oakland and St. Clair counties both experienced increases in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to prison. For Oakland County the percentage increased from 19 percent to 20.1 percent and for St. Clair County the percentage increased from 15.4 percent to 18.7 percent.

The chart below shows the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to jail in Southeastern Michigan between 2011 and 2017. Consistently in this time frame, St. Clair County sentenced the highest percentage of offenders to jail and Wayne County sentenced the lowest percentage of offenders. In St. Clair County there has been a slow increase in the percentage of offenders sentenced to jail, from 32.7 percent in 2011 to 39.7 percent in 2017. There has also been an increase in the percentage of offenders sentenced to jail in Livingston County between 2011 and 2017; there was an increase from 20.8 percent to 24.3 percent. None of the counties have seen an overall decrease in the percentage off felony offenders sentenced to jail since 2011, with the exception of Monroe County. In 2011 14.4 percent of felony offenders were sentenced to jail in Monroe County and in 2017 that number decreased to 13.7 percent.

The chart below shows that Monroe County has consistently had the highest percentage of felony offenders sentenced to a jail/probation combination since 2011. The chart also shows that Washtenaw and Oakland counties have been increasing the percentage of felony offenders they’ve sentenced to a jail/probation combination. In 2011, 23.6 percent of felony offenders in Washtenaw County were sentenced to the jail/probation combination and by 2017 that number increased to 31.3 percent. For Oakland County, 39.5 percent of the felony offender population was sentenced to a jail/probation combination and by 2017 that number increased to 47.8 percent.

Wayne County consistently sentenced the lowest percentage of offenders to the jail/probation combination between 2011 and 2017.

The probation chart below shows several patterns, the first being that Wayne County has consistently sentenced the highest percentage of felony offenders to probation since 2011. Not only has Wayne County consistently sentenced the highest percentage of offenders to probation, but this sentencing form also has the largest difference between the county with the highest sentencing percentage (Wayne) and the lowest (Monroe County).

Oakland County experienced the largest decrease in the percentage of offenders sentenced to probation between 2011 and 2017. In 2011, 16.3 percent of felony offenders were sentenced probation and by 2017 that number decreased to 4.5 percent. Livingston County also experienced a decrease, from 16.3 percent to 6.4 percent. Macomb, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties also experienced minor decreases in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to probation.

Overall, this post highlights •A decrease in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to probation; •A general decrease in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to prison; •General increases in the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to jail and a jail/probation combination.

Additionally, these charts highlight the trends counties tend to adhere to in sentencing. This is helpful in understanding what counties’ criminal justice priorities are and where the may money to fund the criminal justice system in each county is flowing.

Finally, this post highlights that counties follow strikingly different strategies relative to corrections, demonstrating how the criminal justice system in this state is fragmented.

The Difference in Sentencing for Convicted Felons

As this series over the last few weeks has highlighted, there are several different approaches to sentencing a felon, some of which are more common than others. For example, sentencing a felon to community service or restitution is highly uncommon, whether the individual has been convicted of a non-assaultive, assaultive or drug related felony. Prison time, jail time, a combination of jail and probation and then just probation are other sentencing options. For certain offenses, such as murder, prison time is required, and for other offenses, along with what the inmate’s criminal record is, other sentencing options may be viable.  

When an individual is sentenced to prison it means that they have been sentenced to spend at least a year in a correctional facility, whether it be controlled by the state or the federal government. Michigan has indeterminate sentencing, which means that an offender is sentenced with a minimum and maximum term of years to spend in prison. According to the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, in 2015 it cost between $32,000 and $38,000 a year to house an inmate, which includes probation/parole supervision and nonoperational overhead. Currently, Michigan’s prison population is at a 20-year low but expenses to house inmates and operate a jail continue to rise, in part due to rising health care costs and the aging prison population.

Those sentenced to jail time, or who spend time in jail, are either awaiting trial or sentencing or have been sentenced to serve a small amount of time. Jails in Michigan are under the jurisdiction of the county, not the state or the federal government. This means that the cost to house an inmate comes from the County budget. In Michigan there is also pay-to-stay policies in some county jails. According to a 2018 news story, jail inmates are charged between $20 and $60 a day at some county jails throughout Michigan. County jails too are facing rising costs with aging infrastructure being a large contributing factor. New jails are also being built in Michigan, some of which are reducing the number of beds though as a new approach to the criminal justice system begins to take hold.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, probation has been the primary form of supervision for felons in Michigan more than 100 years. The department states one of the reasons this is such a common form of sentencing is because it achieves public protection by assisting the offender in becoming a productive member of society. In order for such success to be achieved, the offender must be willing to participate and programs must be available. The typical felony probation is at least 18 months in length. According to the United States Courts, the annual cost of detaining a prisoner is much more significant than the cost of placing them on supervision. In Wayne County, officials stated that incarceration rates at the county jail facilities have decreased in recent years due to more offenders being placed on tether monitoring systems, which is part of a probation sentence. This approach costs less per offender than housing them in jail, according to Wayne County officials, but specific costs were not identified.

Recently, there has been a push to reevaluate the criminal justice system. In Michigan, for example a Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration was created to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system. According to data from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the jail population in Michigan has almost tripled in the last 30 years, despite crime rates being at a 20-year low. According to the Prison Policy Initiative there was about 225 prisoners incarcerated per 100,000 in 1985 and that increased to about 600 prisoners per 100,000 people in 2015. Discussions to decrease incarceration rates include increasing pre-trial services and better determining what treatment and programs may suit an individual better than jail time. If this approach does occur, future trends would reflect an increase in the probation and the “other” category and a decrease in incarceration rates. 

Next week we will take a deeper look as to how the percentage of felony offenders sentenced to either prison, jail, probation or other community service and treatment based alternatives has changed over the last decade. 

Prison Most Common Sentence for Felony Assaults

As part of the annual Michigan Department of Corrections report assaultive felony offensives are also examined to better understand what percentage of the  offenders are sentenced to either prison, jail, probation, community service or another combination. According to the data, prison sentences tended to be the most common. Monroe County had the highest percentage of felony assault offenders sentenced to prion at 39.6 percent. Wayne County had the second highest sentencing rate at 36.6 percent and Macomb County had the lowest rate at 27.5 percent.

For the jail category, St. Clair County had the highest sentencing rate for felony assault offenders at 38.8 percent; this was 10 percent higher than those in St. Clair County who were sentenced to prison for felony assault charges. Oakland County had the second highest at 23.3 percent. Wayne County had the lowest percentage of felony assault offenders sentenced to jail at 6 percent; the county with the second lowest sentencing rate was Monroe County at 11.7 percent.  

For a sentencing combination of jail and probation, Monroe County had the highest sentencing rate for felony assault offenders at 48.1 percent; Livingston County had the second highest rate at 44 percent. Wayne County was the only county in the region to have a jail and probation combination sentencing rate below 20 percent. According to the data, 15.1 percent of felony assault offenders in Wayne County were sentenced to a jail/probation combination.

Livingston, Monroe, Oakland and St. Clair counties all sentenced less than 5 percent of felony assault offenders to probation, with Monroe County having the lowest sentencing rate at 0.6 percent. Conversely, Wayne County had the highest probation sentencing rate at 42.3 percent, a trend we’ve seen throughout this series. Wayne County’s probation sentencing rate was nearly 20 percentage points higher than the county with the second highest rate (Washtenaw County had a rate at 24 percent).

No county in the region sentenced more than 2 percent of the felony assault offender population to community service, restitution, fines and/or costs.

Prison appears to be the most common sentencing type for felony assault offenders, except for Wayne County where nearly half the felony assault offender population was sentenced to probation.