The largest growing industry in Michigan since 1980 is the prison industry. Twenty-four years ago, Michigan corrections department’s budget was three percent of the state’s fiscal budget. Today, the corrections department accounts for 20 percent of the budget. Similarly, Michigan prisoners serve longer sentences and cost more to taxpayers than the national average. With correctional facilities using more money than education, reforming the prison system has become increasingly important to the state legislature’s bipartisan agenda. The state legislature must take reformatory action as soon as possible so funding can be redirected to areas in desperate need of help such as education.
The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, a Lansing-based non-profit, advocates guidelines for the state to take into consideration during the reforms. Policies such as, presumptive parole, where all prisoners are released after their minimum sentence unless there is reason to believe there’s a risk, more discretion for “good time” and revamping the parole board have been suggested by CAPPS to help both prisoners and the state.
While violent crimes in Michigan fell by 30 percent from 1986 to 2006, state prisons experienced growth of more than 250 percent. This increase stems from a variety of factors that can be altered. Our prisoners spend 4.3 years in prison compared to the national average of 2.9 years. Imprisoning non-violent crime offenders for longer time proves ineffective in ensuring safety for the state. A 2013 study by the Pew Center found that Michigan’s rate of incarceration dropped 12 percent between 2007 and 2012 while crime rates fell 17 percent during the same time period indicating incarceration may not be the answer to preventing crimes. Lightening sentences could prove beneficial to both taxpayers and those convicted of minor offenses.
Partly due to the War on Drugs established in the 1980s and the rise in felony convictions, Michigan’s prison population is becoming older, with some older prisoners costing $200,000 a year — significantly more than the already expensive $35,000 cost per prisoner average. As many drug policies are outdated and unjust, releasing elder inmates would alleviate the burden on Michigan’s corrections system.
Correction facilities constitute 20 percent of Michigan’s state budget, a percentage higher than funding for crucial programs like higher education. With the majority of public universities in Michigan increasing tuition by upwards of three percent, redirecting funding currently used towards the corrections department could subsidize increased costs that students pay. These high prices act as a hindrance for students to attend college, and this hindrance increases the incarceration probability. With one year of college decreasing incarceration of Caucasians by 10 percent and African Americans by 37 percent, it’s imperative that we adjust our funding to help our youth stay out of prison instead of increasing funds to keep them locked away.