----------------Revise laws to lower prison costs, keep everyone safer
BY MICHAEL TIMMIS AND PAT NOLAN
Detroit Free Press
Nov. 28, 2009
Michigan has more than an economic crisis -- we have a crime crisis, too. And we won't be able to solve the overall budget shortfall without making significant cuts in the corrections budget. Our current criminal justice system is costing us over a billion dollars a year, far more than our neighboring states are spending. Yet despite this huge expense for corrections, our communities are still plagued by crime.
• Michigan's violent crime rate is higher than all other states in the Great Lakes region.
• Corrections is the third most expensive item in Michigan's budget, with only health care and education costing more.
• The Michigan Department of Corrections employs one out of every three state workers.
The current budget crisis requires us to examine every facet of state spending to find ways to make it more efficient. The Department of Corrections is no exception. Nearly half of the 14,000 inmates released this year are expected to return to prison within two years. If the Legislature doesn't adopt smart reforms that reduce this failure rate, corrections costs will continue to devour larger and larger portions of the budget. We can no longer afford to continue the revolving door of prisons.
But we have good news. There are proven ways to cut the high cost of Michigan's prisons without increasing the risk to the public.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her excellent team at the Department of Corrections have developed the Michigan Reentry Initiative, which helps offenders make a successful transition from prison to the community. But executive authority is limited. Some of the reforms require legislation to allow the policy changes.
A bipartisan team of legislators has been working with the Council of State Governments, the Pew Center on the States, Detroit Renaissance and the Detroit Regional Chamber as well as prosecutors, law enforcement leaders and faith groups to adopt programs that have proven effective at keeping the public safe while saving tax dollars. The new legislation promises to make Michigan safer by investing the dollars saved from corrections spending into crime prevention. The working group's recommendations have been introduced in the Legislature by Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-DeWitt, and Rep. Andrew Kandrevas, D-Southgate.
Cropsey has introduced SB 827, which will reform our parole system to:
• Reserve prison space for offenders who truly pose a threat to society.
• Base decisions for parole on an offender's risk to the public.
• Require offenders applying for parole to complete programs proven to increase their chances of succeeding in the community.
• Supervise all released offenders in their communities for at least nine months.
• Ensure that all prisoners serve at least 100% of the minimum sentence imposed by their judge.
Kandrevas has introduced HB 4977, which will:
• Form local community corrections boards so that local factors and needs can be taken into account in placing offenders in community programs.
• Use proven tools to assess the risk of offenders assigned to community corrections.
• Allow only offenders who do not pose a likely threat to public safety in these programs.
A coalition of community leaders, businessmen and pastors is rallying to support these reforms. We need your help to keep up the momentum. Will you join us?
Tell your neighbors why it is so important to pass these reforms. Talk to your service club, pastor, Bible study or other groups you belong to. These reforms are key to improving public safety as well as balancing the state budget.
With your help, Michigan can have fewer offenders returning to prison, and that means budget savings, safer neighborhoods and fewer victims. And that is good news for all of us.
Michael Timmis is a Detroit lawyer and serves as chairman of the Board of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Pat Nolan leads Prison Fellowship's criminal justice reform arm, Justice Fellowship. For more information, go to www.justicefellowship.org or www.pfjustice4MI.org.