Michigan prisons consume around 90 percent of the state’s corrections spending. Sound excessive? It gets even worse when one considers that two thirds of the people who should be benefiting from projects funded by this money aren’t even inside these prisons. With a report released Monday finding that one in every 27 Michigan adults are in jail, on probation or parole, it’s long past time to take a closer look at how the state spends money on corrections. Michigan lawmakers should invest in better supervision for offenders to be monitored outside of the jail cell, not just because it’s in their economic best interests to do so but also because this strategy would emphasize the rehabilitative purpose of the state corrections department.

Monday’s report by the Pew Center on the States estimated that there are about 5.1 million people on probation or parole in the United States — a number that tripled from 1982 to 2007. Including prisoners behind bars, the number exceeds 7.3 million. Michigan in particular has the 13th highest rate of adults under community supervision or behind bars. And while costs for a prison inmate average nationally around $29,000, the cost for a parolee or probationer ranges from only $1,250-$2,250. Considering Michigan’s current economic troubles, allowing low-risk inmates to take advantage of correctional probation and parole programs would be a smart way to save money.

Due to Michigan’s strict release policies, the state has considerably more people in prison for longer periods of time. A high rate of prisoners costs the state more money — money that could be saved if more prisoners were released to community supervision programs. This saving from downsizing prison spending could be redirected to improve Michigan’s current probation and parole programs. The Michigan Prison Re-Entry Initiative already has programs in place designed to help successfully guide prisoners back into their communities. The state can the use money saved to improve these community supervision strategies through advances in technology.

By developing better technology for rehabilitation programs in the community, such as electric monitoring and rapid-result drug and alcohol tests, supervisors can better keep the offender on the right track. The offenders will also benefit because this gives them a better opportunity for transitioning back into society. The greatest returns will come to the state by implementing programs that decrease recidivism rates, save money on prison spending and rehabilitate the inmate population.

Better technology and programs are making it much easier to monitor offenders on parole. In states like Hawaii, for example, a focus on the rehabilitation of offenders in their own communities has proven to be effective. Participants are offered programs with extensive counseling and treatment, and are required to comply with regular drug tests, office visits and treatment requirements. Programs that are more specialized to the specific needs and interests of the individual offenders are more likely to be successful. Michigan correctional programs should adopt creative programs like this one that improve the corrections system in Michigan and save the state money.

Through strengthened and expanded community supervision strategies and technologies, the state can achieve long-term solutions for the well-being of the prisoners and the economy. It’s time to follow the lead of other states and start reducing both the money — and the people — funneling into an outdated prison system. Many of these prisoners can be safely overseen in their own communities, working with extensive counseling and treatment through the help of improved technologies — that will save the state money that can be put to better use.

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