This project is grounded in the perspective that the criminal justice system is broken. Over-criminalization and reliance on retributive punishment have resulted in a system of oppression that entrenches poverty and harms those on the margins. By shifting the focus to healing, rather than punishment, the criminal justice system can simultaneously address the root causes of offending behavior and improve lives while enhancing public safety.
Street Democracy, a non-profit organization located in Detroit, Michigan, will implement a pilot Functional Sentencing program in Southeast Michigan. Street Democracy, founded in 2006, is comprised of a small group of attorneys and legal researchers whose mission is to reform the systems that create and perpetuate poverty in Detroit. In contrast to traditional sentencing, where the focus is on punitive mechanisms such as fines and fees, the Functional Sentencing program proposed by Street Democracy attempts to “help an individual permanently exit the criminal justice system by replacing fines and costs with targeted interventions (e.g. job placement and medical services) that address the root causes of an individual’s offense” (Street Democracy, 2018). In 2017, Street Democracy successfully launched an initial pilot of a similar Functional Sentencing program in the 31st District Court in Hamtramck, Michigan.
This new collaboration with University of Michigan-Dearborn will research and implement a more permanent, larger-scale version of this program in order to lay the foundation for expanding the availability of Functional Sentencing throughout Michigan, as well as improve methods of collecting data on clients who have gone through the process. More broadly, this research project will contribute to understanding about problem-solving courts, identifying the factors that may be most effective in reducing recidivism, as well as help illustrate the ways in which alternative sentencing structures may contribute to improving trust in the judicial system.