Traverse City News and Events

A Pandemic Reckoning

By Beth Milligan | Oct. 6, 2020

Over the last six months, as officials try to keep jail populations lower (and as a result, safer during the pandemic), there have been many people arrested in Grand Traverse County who have spent less time in jail than similar cases would require. However, those individuals have yet not posed any threat or caused additional trouble.

As a consequence, some of the measures taken to reduce the jail population are prompting officials to reconsider who should be in jail and why. Will the circumstances of the pandemic cause the system and society to reexamine the use of jail?

“I think it already has,” says Noelle Moeggenberg, Grand Traverse County’s prosecuting attorney. “Maybe not punishment as much, at least not in our area. I think that we get, for the most part, fair sentences up here." But Moeggenberg thinks that the pandemic will prompt continued reevaluation of pre-trial detention in some cases.

Things were changing even before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, Moeggenberg says. In the last couple of years, prosecutors, judges, and policymakers in northern Michigan and across the country increasingly have been questioning who should be in jail, especially while cases are pending and before a person has been convicted. More and more, in nonviolent cases in recent years, judges have been freeing defendants on personal recognizance, or P.R. bonds, meaning the accused doesn't have to pay anything to get out of jail while their case is pending. In other, more serious cases, suspects can be released on a G.P.S. tether, unless they are deemed a threat to public safety.

Read more about what the pandemic might mean for the criminal justice system and how local jails operate in this week’s Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker. The Northern Express is available to read online, or pick up a free copy at newsstand locations in 14 counties across northern Michigan.

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