Over the last several decades, the United States has seen its prison population increase to more than two-million people. One of the biggest causes of growing incarceration rates in the United States is repeat offenders. The state of Michigan created a program called the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, aimed at using community organizations to prevent recidivism among returning citizens. The program helps ex-convicts find stable housing and steady employment while counseling them on staying out of the penitentiary system. Despite a great deal of both anecdotal and empirical evidence displaying the MPRI’s success, the Snyder administration has chosen to cut the initiative’s budget almost in half. These types of programs give attention to the nuanced issues of such marginalized populations and should be, at the very least, maintained, not weakened.
Michigan prison population has dropped by more than 16 percent between 2006 and 2011, saving the state hundreds of millions in its corrections budget. The state has allocated nearly $2 billion for the Department of Corrections for fiscal year 2014. The MPRI was given $20 million in 2013 but will see only $12 million for 2014. Despite the fact that this relatively inexpensive and effective program has saved money and helped a vulnerable population, the state legislature has decided it isn’t worth the cost. Instead of making investments that save money, help people and reduce crime, the budget slashed another important government program.
Over the last three years, the Snyder administration and the Republican-controlled Michigan state legislature have torn into some of the state’s key programs in the name of balancing the budget. Secondary and higher education have seen funding eviscerated, while the governor has called for an increased gas tax to pay for road repairs. The state’s budget in recent years has taken a sharp turn against lower- and middle-class people, cutting programs that help those in the toughest situations while proposing regressive taxes.
Building better schools and taking steps to reduce crime will exponentially improve the state. A balanced budget should certainly be a major priority for a state, especially one with Michigan’s recent economic history. However, a balanced budget can only do so much. The state must invest in its people if it wishes to thrive in the future. There are currently more than 40,000 people incarcerated in Michigan, the vast majority of whom will one day rejoin society. Their chance of finding a home and a place to work, all while avoiding falling back into old habits, can be increased through effective organization and policy. Giving the MPRI a few million dollars will stop future crimes, thus improving public safety and saving the state billions in prison costs. The state must stop its obsession with short term budgets and focus on investing in its people’s future.