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April 15, 2008

Michigan's struggles with bulging prisons

The Detroit News has this extended article on Michigan's over-crowded prisons, headlined "Bulging prisons drain Michigan's budget: State faces hard choices as get-tough laws put more behind bars."  Here is how it starts:

Michigan runs one of the nation's largest and most costly prison systems, a $2 billion-a-year expense that is crowding out other spending priorities at a rate many officials fear the state can no longer afford.  Yet despite near-unanimous agreement that Michigan can't pay ever-rising corrections bills during a period of economic decline, politicians and law enforcement professionals remain hesitant to spend less by changing sentencing guidelines or paroling more prisoners.

"Our efforts to grow Michigan's economy and keep our state competitive are threatened by the rising costs in the Department of Corrections," Gov. Jennifer Granholm told The Detroit News.  "We spend more on prisons than we do on higher education, and that has got to change."

The problem is reaching a crisis: Michigan's system is already the nation's sixth-largest overall, and ranks 15th among the states in the cost per inmate.  It could exceed capacity within two months, said Chief Deputy Corrections Director Dennis Schrantz, unless lawmakers approve stop-gap measures, such as doubling the number of inmates in the state boot camp program.

If the inmate population, now about 50,000, exceeds 51,800, the department will have to ask the Legislature for more money to house, feed, clothe, educate and guard the inmates.  "We could be in pretty dire shape for funded beds in May or June of this year," unless changes are made, Schrantz said.

The Corrections Department already devours 20 cents of every tax dollar in the state's general fund and employs nearly one in every three state government workers, compared with 9 percent of the work force 25 years ago.  "Because we're spending more state dollars in areas such as prisons, we're taking funding away from areas that are real priorities for citizens and for economic growth," said Dan Gilmartin, executive director of the Michigan Municipal League.

April 15, 2008 at 12:10 AM | Permalink


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I work as assigned counsel on criminal appeals for the NYS Appellate Division, Third Department.

Posted by: Judgment Day | Apr 15, 2008 7:29:49 AM

Of course, letting criminals go has economic costs as well.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 15, 2008 11:06:23 AM

Michigan culture values a large incarcerated population. Michiganders feel safer when lots of people are in jail. The politicians that think otherwise are just ignoring the will of the people.

Therefore, as Federalists points out the only solution is to 1) make more things illegal; 2) reduce protections available to defendants that might let them avoid incarceration; and 3) tolerate a greater number of erroneous convictions. This will reduce the economic costs associated with letting Michiganders roam free where they will inevitably commit crimes, because it is their way.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 15, 2008 1:26:06 PM

I was a corrections officer for the State of Michigan for 18 years. My first move would be to elemenate the parole board and go to flat sentancing. Go to a system based on good time. The more time they do with out a problem, the sooner they can be released. Second I would put more inmates to work. In other states inmates are not allowed to sit around all day play in the yard. They have to get up and work or go to school. I talked to many inmates who had done time in other states and said doing time in Mich. was easy. There is something wrong with that. Third put the corrections system in the hands of the Judicial system. In the federal system inmates cannot file meaning less law suits because the system is run by the Judicial system. Forth when the prison system needs to buy supplies they buy them from the Michigan State Industries such as furniture, cleaning supplies, officers uniforms, etc. The prisons can actually go outside the system and buy these items cheaper. Making the prison system more self sufficent such as gardens, raising thier own beef are ideas. In the 18 years i worked for the State the rights of inmates has increased and the control of the officers has decreased. We were not put there to make an inmates time harder but to make sure they did thier time properly.

Posted by: Steve | Apr 17, 2008 2:25:25 PM

I was in a Michigan prison for more than 3 years. If you want to change the population you have to change certain rules in the justice system,i.e., sentencing guidelines and having prosecutors and courts that impose sentences based on justice and punishment, not financial and political covenience and opportunity.

Posted by: Chris Koster | Sep 4, 2008 5:35:28 PM

There has to be a motivation to do better while incacerated. Good time is effective in motivating positive behaviors. Michigan sentencing guidlines and truth in sentencing, are too rigid and don't factor in personal facts of a case.There are so many variables in cases that should be factored in.

I am mentoring a young mans doing 5 to 20 years and has never even spent a day incarcerated prior.He had juvinile offences that pushed up his guidlines. He is a mentaly retaarded 19 year old.He stole food to survive due to neglect by his mother, That theft on two occasions ,pushed up his guidlines. His parent should have been prosecuted. The legal system as it stands is flawed and ineffective. He is mixed in with general population. He says the prison is full of drugs easily obtained by inmates. That concarns me a great deal.The prison system is producing addicts that didn't use drugs prior to incarceration.Does anyone want to address this issue? 2ND MOM

Posted by: 2ND MOM | Jan 24, 2009 10:55:22 PM

Please consider the following; Why can't Michigan prisinors get a fair chance @ truth in sentencing??? This shouldn't be the decision of a few politicans. Or, the choice of people that don't understand how neandrathol our prison system is here in Michigan. What's wrong with finding an effective way to bring back good time??? If good time is so bad, why is it that most of our states have it? Why can't we put it to a vote by the people? When is OUR Govenor going to seriously help this situation. It deserves attention. Jennifer Neumann.

Posted by: Jennifer Neumann | Jul 15, 2010 11:35:18 AM

Michigan took away the aability for their prisnors to be fairly educated. I f some of these guys can score well on the SAT or ACT exams why not extend educationsal benefits to them? Whoever is so worried about them wasting time could be rest assured that I pay $230.00 per class and $100.00 for each book. We live in a society right now that may not even accept his degree when he gets out. He works hard and has never had a grade lower than an "A". HE scores on the top 1% in our country on th Ged test. Whats wrong with giving some assistance to those guys who really want a functional degree????

Posted by: Jennifer Neumann | Jul 15, 2010 11:40:39 AM

I served four well deserved years in prison. If the courts wanted to sectence me to four years, than that's what they should have sentenced me to. I was sentenced to three years based on a plea deal worked out because I had this misinformed idea that because of truth in sentencing, I would be let go if I stayed out of trouble. Had I known that truth in sentencing actually meant nothing at all, I probably would have gone to trial. Who is a politician to say that michigan is to adhere to truth in sentencing. If you ask me, I think the people of the state of Michigan should understand what truth in sentencing is, how the parole board doesn't even consider it, then have a vote.

Posted by: frustrated | Dec 8, 2010 5:10:34 PM

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