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Michigan lawmakers look to set appropriate penalties for making a school threat

Michigan lawmakers look to set appropriate penalties for making a school threat. (File - Sinclair Broadcast Group/Stephen Wozny)

Threats of violence towards schools are becoming more common and Michigan lawmakers are looking to define the penalties that go along with making threats.

The Michigan House is reviewing a bill that would set penalties for making a school threat and Newschannel 3's Jake Berent spoke with lawmakers, school leaders and law enforcement about the bill.

As it stands, any student who makes a threat towards a school can be charged with terrorism, but prosecutors say it may be a bit extreme when it comes to some cases.

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, threats of violence against schools were everywhere.

Lakeview Superintendent Blake Prewitt said, “Especially a week or two after the shooting, it was 20 a day across the state.”

Prewitt reports every threat to police, no matter the student or the situation, but acknowledges the motivation behind those threats range across a wide spectrum.

He said, "There is a difference between a student that is immature, and says something stupid, and puts something online without thinking, and a student who's looking to hurt people."

That is why lawmakers in Lansing want to give prosecutors like Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting more options.

Getting said, “My office is dealing with these kinds of threats on a regular basis.”

With the current laws, all school threats can be treated as misdemeanors, or as terrorism, which carries along with it a 20-year maximum jail sentence.

Getting said, “We're stuck with those two extremes.”

Under the new proposal, offenders can be charged with a misdemeanor, with maximum of 1 year in jail, or a felony, which means up to 10 years in jail.

Getting said, “This gives us some middle ground that will allow us some effective deterrents when these types of threats are made.”

Battle creek Police Chief Jim Blocker says his department, along with prosecutors, want to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

Blocker said, “Are the elements really there, and is that the exact charge we really want? And does that get us to where we really need to be to address the issue?”

He says the most important thing is to make sure the lesson is being learned.

Blocker said, “At that age, you're allowed to mess up. You're supposed to mess up and make mistakes. But more important, it's our role in society to make sure you have learned from those mistakes, and I'm not sure that is county jail or state prison is the best place to do your best learning.”

Getting said he believes the new penalties will serve as a good deterrent for anyone thinking about making these types of threats in the future.

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