WSW: Fewer Prisoners, Less Cost

Jun 25, 2015

Michigan State Prison at Jackson
Credit Andrew Jameson, Wikimedia Commons

If the state of Michigan wants to save money the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending says corrections would be a good place to look. 

The non-profit public policy organization recently released a report 10,000 Fewer Michigan Prisoners: Strategies to Reach the Goal. The founder of CAPPS Barbara Levine now serves as Associate Director for Research and Policy. She spoke with WMUK's Gordon Evans about the report's recommendations. Levine says "Prison numbers are not driven by crime rates, crime rates have been falling steadily for decades." Instead Levine says it's matter of public policy. She says those decisions made in the 80's and 90's tended to drive the prison population higher. 

"Prison numbers are not driven by crime rates, crime rates have been falling steadily for decades."

The report from CAPPS has about two dozen policy recommendations to bring down the prison population. Levine says it's a questionable use of prison bed space for people who are going to serve less than two years. But she says even someone sentenced to a long sentence for a violent crime is not necessarily at high risk to re-offend. Levine says it's important to determine who currently represents a risk when deciding how long people should serve, and if they should be released when eligible for parole. 

Levine says the state should use some of the money saved on incarceration should be invested in programs to prevent crime. She says that can include prisoner re-entry, mental health, substance abuse. Levine says investing in education and job-training in high-crime communities would also be a wise investment. 

Mandatory longer sentences has created an older prison population. Levine says that had lead to higher costs for health problems in aging prisoners. She says the state may have to develop places on the outside that are designed for prisoners could address the problem. Levine says the state would not be paying as much for security, and the former prisoners would likely be eligible for Medicare from the federal government. 

Governor Rick Snyder recently laid out his ideas for reforming the corrections system in Michigan. Levine says the governor's priorities line up well with the CAPPS report. She while it is still "an uphill battle," there is more bi-partisan work happening on corrections reform. Levine says the "conversation is definitely changing." 

Image from Wikimedia Commons