Sentence Creep: Increasing Penalties in Michigan and the Need for Sentencing Reform

The governor and several legislators have requested review of Michigan’s sentencing practices with an eye toward sentence reform. Michigan leads the country in the average length of prison stay, and by internal comparisons the average minimum sentence has nearly doubled in the last decade. This Article explores cumulative increases to criminal penalties over the last several decades as reflected in amendments to the sentencing guidelines, increased maximum sentences, harsh mandatory minimum terms, increased authority for consecutive sentencing, wide sentencing discretion for habitual and repeat drug offenders, and tough parole practices and policies. The reality for legislators is that it is much easier to increase a penalty than to decrease it, but the continued incremental increases in penalty and sentence length over the years have led Michigan to the point of necessary sentence reform.