Violence and public safety are of great concern to both community members and system stakeholders. There are two problems, however, with current approaches to addressing violence in Wayne County. First, there is no clear agreement on what should be considered a violent offense or which offenses are the most serious, which makes it harder to prioritize and target efforts. For example, some crimes may be classified as violent when there is no element of physical harm, while other serious crimes that do involve physical harm may be excluded from categorization as violent.[] Vera’s analysis of state laws, court rules, and agency reports found multiple and at times discordant offense categorizations and definitions of violent crime. For example, Article 1, Section 15 of the Michigan Constitution defines a “violent felony” as one that has an element involving an actual or threatened violent act against another person, a definition also used in MCR 6.106. However, MCL 600.1060, 600.1090, and 600.1200, the laws relating to admission for drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts, all define a “violent offender” as someone who is currently charged or has pled guilty to an offense that involves death or serious bodily injury, whether or not those are an element of the offense, or any degree of criminal sexual conduct. Separately, Michigan’s Anti-Terrorism Act defines “violent felony” as a felony having an element that involves the actual, attempted, or threatened use of physical force; harmful biological, chemical, or radioactive substances or devices; or explosive or incendiary devices. The category of “assaultive crimes” in MCL 770.9a is also referenced by a number of other statutes. Although this category does include a number of the most serious violent offenses, it does not include others, like child abuse or home invasion. The Michigan Incident Crime Reporting (MICR) system appears to model the National Incident-Based Reporting System used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with “Group A” and “Group B” offenses followed by three broad categories. The Michigan Department of Corrections, at least in its statistical reporting, uses three different broad categories. The Michigan Sentencing Guidelines Manual uses six general offense categories, set out in state legislation, two of which are at least nominally the same as two of the three categories used by MICR. Second, in cases where violence has occurred, the current responses are limited primarily to incarceration, with little done to address the underlying causes of violent behavior. National research indicates incarceration does not always meet the needs of survivors.[]Judith L. Herman, “The Mental Health of Crime Victims: Impact of Legal Intervention,” Journal of Traumatic Stress 16, no. 2 (2003), 159-166. Their perspectives and preferences often have little impact on sentencing, and many survivors report that the incarceration of the person who harmed them made them feel less safe.[]Edna Erez and Pamela Tontodonato, “The Effect of Victim Participation in Sentencing on Sentence Outcome,” Criminology 28, no. 3 (1990), 451-474; Danielle Sered, Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair (New York: The New Press, 2019); and Alliance for Safety and Justice, Crime Survivors Speak, Additionally, research has shown that when compared to noncustodial sanctions, incarceration makes it more likely that a person will commit new crimes and be re-incarcerated.[]Paul Gendreau, Claire Goggin, Francis T. Cullen, and Donald A. Andrews, “The Effects of Community Sanctions and Incarceration on Recidivism,” Forum on Corrections Research 12 (2000), 10-13; Paula Smith, Claire Goggin, and Paul Gendreau, The Effects of Prison Sentences and Intermediate Sanctions on Recidivism: General Effects and Individual Differences (Ottawa: Solicitor General of Canada, 2002),; Patrice Villettaz, Martin Killias, and Isabel Zoder, "The Effects of Custodial vs. Non‐Custodial Sentences on Re‐offending: A Systematic Review of the State of Knowledge," Campbell Systematic Reviews 2, no. 1 (2006), 1-69; and Sered, Until We Reckon, 2019. Incarceration may increase the likelihood that people will use violence by making it harder for them to meet their economic needs, isolating them from their communities and pro-social connections, exposing them to more trauma and violence while inside, and enhancing feelings of shame.[]Sered, Until We Reckon, 2019. Many direct service providers and community advocates organizing to improve safety and justice in Wayne County see jail incarceration as ineffective for addressing or preventing violence and are calling for better tools.


Partner with communities to address violence and other harm.

Wayne County would benefit both by clearly identifying which violent offenses are the greatest concern and by investing in a range of approaches to violence that do not depend on the jail and which better address the underlying causes of violent behavior. To begin to address violence and other harm, Wayne County should partner with the county’s most affected residents. The county should create inclusive structures for collaboration and partner with community-based organizations to develop alternatives to incarceration that address the root causes of violence, such as programs rooted in principles of restorative justice. Restorative justice programs are survivor-centered, accountability-based, safety-driven, and racially equitable.

Wayne County should also work to prevent violence through more strategic investments in the resources residents of communities impacted by violence have identified as necessary for their safety and well-being.[]This might include government support for behavioral health services, educational and economic resources, and nonpolice-led crime prevention efforts. To do this, Wayne County should consistently and proactively seek input from the county’s most affected residents to learn how to better respond to violence and make decisions pertaining to the criminal justice system more broadly.

Some strategies for proactive community engagement by government stakeholders might entail:

  • initiating meetings with community organizations;
  • holding resource fairs;
  • coordinating the attendance of high-ranking agency representatives at public events hosted by community groups (when deemed appropriate by those organizations); and
  • establishing mini-city halls or information hubs in distressed neighborhoods and/or conducting virtual town halls.