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MLive Lansing: Review of entire criminal justice system would take place under Peters bill

The criminal justice system in the U.S. would undergo a top-to-bottom review under legislation introduced this month by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Twp. 

The legislation would create a 14-member, bipartisan National Criminal Justice Commission that would conduct an 18-month review of federal, state, local and tribal criminal justice systems. Commissioners would be made up of presidential and congressional appointees with expertise in law enforcement, victims' rights, civil liberties and social service. 

At the end of the review, the commission would issue recommendations for policy changes.

Peters partnered with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, on the proposal, which was originally introduced in 2015. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is listed as a cosponsor.

In a statement announcing the reintroduction, Peters said a National Criminal Justice Commission would be a critical step in reducing crime, improving public safety and promoting equality in the criminal justice system.

"Our criminal justice system is built on the pillars of fairness and equality, but too many Americans see growing challenges in our justice system ranging from overburdened courts and unsustainable incarceration costs to strained relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve," he said.

When he first introduced the legislation in Detroit in 2015, Peters said incidents such as the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. and closer to home, the beating of Floyd Dent, a black man, during a traffic stop in Inkster, show that improving race relations is a big part of correcting criminal justice deficiencies.

"It is an issue that has to be explored in this commission," he said at the time. "We have got communities that don't feel trust with law enforcement and law enforcement don't feel trust for the community, its a two-way street.

"Certainly this commission will be very diverse, will represent a diversity of views ... and there is no question that race is likely to be a component."

Graham called it "a long overdue measure," adding that he thought the nation would be better off with a full review.

The legislation has gotten support from several Michigan organizations, including the Michigan Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Officers Association of Michigan and the Detroit branch of the NAACP. 

Kenneth Grabowski, legislative director for the Police Officers Association of Michigan, said it's time for a major review. 

"In too many instances, the line police officer is forgotten about in the making of decisions for the law enforcement community," he said. "But, when things go bad, it's the line officer who first gets blamed."

Donnell R. White, executive director of the NAACP Detroit branch, said he hopes a thorough and exhaustive review of the system would help save lives, keep communities safe and reduce incarceration rates. 

"There are serious challenges at every stage of our criminal justice system that undermine the basic tenets of justice, fairness and equality," White said.

The last comprehensive review of the criminal justice system was conducted in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, which came up with more than 200 recommendations, according to Peters' office.