Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Michigan Closes Prisons and Reduces Crime

Michigan has released more inmates and reduced crime. Sounds like an ideal situation in these difficult economic times. The Washington Monthly recently wrote a piece detailing the how Governor Jennifer Granholm pulled off this rather enviable feat. Below are some excerpts from the full Washington Monthly article.

According to the Washington Monthly, when parolees are less likely to reoffend, more prisoners can be let go without jeopardizing public safety. Going hand in hand with Michigan’s improved recidivism rates, therefore, has been a correspondent increase in parole approvals. Over 3,000 more prisoners were paroled in 2009 than were paroled in 2006; approvals for violent offenders have gone up by more than half (from 35 to 55 percent), while approvals for sex offenders have more than quadrupled (from 10 to 50 percent).

As a result, during the past three years, the number of state inmates in Michigan has shrunk by 12 percent, reversing a sixteen-year trend of steady prison population growth. The turnaround enabled Governor Granholm to shut down ten prisons last year, and an additional eight are slated to be closed by the end of 2010, reported the Washington Monthly.

Between 1970 and 2005 the number of incarcerated Americans grew by 700 percent, accounting for one-fourth of the world’s prisoners. A 2008 study by the Pew Center on the States found that more than 1 in 100 adults were behind bars. This isn’t just grim in humanitarian terms; it’s also extremely expensive, costing over $60 billion a year. If states are to cut back on the vast sums spent on prisons, they will need to focus on keeping parolees from reoffending. No state has taken the lead on this more than Michigan, reports the Washington Monthly.

In 1973, Michigan had a prison population of 7,874 inmates, and $38 million, less than 2 percent of the state’s general fund, went to corrections, according to the Washington Monthly. Crime was rising, however, and prison capacity was insufficient. Like many other state legislatures across the country, Michigan lawmakers attributed their worsening crime rates to what they viewed as overly lenient sentencing guidelines, so they enacted tougher policies and built more prisons. By the end of 1984, Michigan’s inmate population had nearly doubled, reaching 14,658. Five years later, it had more than doubled again, to 31,834.

By 2003, when Granholm became governor, Michigan’s prison population had increased to 50,591, and corrections expenditures had reached $1.6 billion, almost a fifth of the state’s general fund. It was becoming unsustainable. “If something wasn’t done, we’d be building more prisons, and that simply was not in the cards,” Beth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency told the Washington Monthly.

Like thirty-three other states, Michigan uses a form of indeterminate sentencing in which each inmate gets a minimum (determined by a judge) and a maximum (established by the legislature). Often, the gap between the two can be vast—a sentence of three to twenty years, for instance. After serving his minimum, the inmate becomes eligible for parole; if he is never granted parole he eventually “maxes out” and goes free. Pennsylvania uses indeterminate sentencing. Pennsylvania current prison population is greater than 50,000 for the first time in history.

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