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June 12, 2008

Michigan editorial follows the money to assail prison priorities

With lean economic times, I expect we may start to see a number of editorials similar to this new commentary from a local Michigan paper.  Here are extended excerpts from an effective editorial:

Michigan no longer can afford its hard-as-nails approach to crime and punishment.  About 20 cents of every dollar in the state's $9.8 billion General Fund budget is spent on the Department of Corrections. That $2 billion a year may rise to $2.6 billion a year by 2012, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan said last month — unless our state corrects its irrational attitudes about corrections.

Nearly every branch of state government has faced deep budget cuts during Michigan's prolonged economic depression. Our lawmakers, after a year of bloody budget battles, even enacted tax increases last year to help pay for state services....  Yet we continue to spent more and more on a prison system that incarcerates our people at a rate higher than any other Great Lakes State. One-third of state workers are Corrections employees.

Michigan is one of only four states in the nation to spend more on prisons than on its colleges and universities.  After years of cuts of state spending on universities and rising prison costs, Michigan now spends $1.19 on Corrections for every $1 spent on higher education, the Pew Center on the States reported in February.

Legislators in Lansing, citing budget concerns, have ratcheted down Gov. Jennifer Granholm's proposed increases in spending in K-12 education....  But when Granholm came out with proposals a year ago to release 5,000 old and sick state prisoners and to reform sentencing guidelines and the state parole system, lawmakers recoiled in horror.  Their refusal so far to take a permanent bite out of this budget buster is as irrational as the belief that bulging prisons equal safe streets.

Look: Even with a prison system that has swollen more than 538 percent in the past 34 years, Michiganders are hardly safer than people in the rest of the nation. The rate of violent crime here fell 13 percent between 1981 and 2006; in the nation, violent crime dropped 12 percent.

If you're looking for a big bang for your bucks, taxpayers, it sure isn't in the Michigan prison system.... Michigan's multibillion-dollar experiment in punishing too many crimes with maximum time behind bars has failed.... Why is it that Minnesota, a sister Great Lakes State, spends just 17 cents on prisons for every dollar spent on colleges and universities?  Michigan leaders should go there, and find out.

They may learn that the state has different priorities for its money; a different approach to crime and punishment, a far lower incarceration rate.  Apply those lessons, and others, here.  Spend the money saved on public services that actually work.

June 12, 2008 at 09:05 AM | Permalink

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My Mother has been a 'victim' of obsessive compulsive disorder for 22 years and part of this disorder has included a compulision to shoplift. She has been on probation for a prior offense for the past year and was recently found by a jury to be guilty of a second offense. This particular offense she was NOT guilty of. She is currently in jail and is waiting sentencing. What can I do as her daughter to assist her and her attorney in this devistating situation. I am an upstanding citizen, a college graduate with a professional career. Please give me some guidance on this. Thank you

Posted by: Amy Sibal | Nov 19, 2008 7:16:26 PM

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