Who needs colleges when you can have prisons… Good work, Michigan!

I haven’t seen the new numbers, but, in 2008, I remember reading that Michigan was one of only four states that spent more on corrections than on higher education. And this, if I’m not mistaken, is happening in spite of the fact that Michigan’s prison population is dropping. I mention this because I just saw a terrific quote from California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown, as you may have heard, just gave the order to stop the construction of a new $356-million death row. Here’s the quote.

“At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals.”

He siad that doing so would be “unconscionable.” Furthermore, it would seem as though he’s open to significant prison reform, including the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. From what I can tell, however, here in the Mitten State we’re following a different path. The following clip comes from an AnnArbor.com piece following the announcement that Governor Rick Snyder had chose Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run Michigan’s Department of Corrections.

…Heyns, a Republican, was a vocal opponent of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s actions to release more nonviolent prisoners eligible for parole.

The Department of Corrections accounts for about a quarter of the state’s general fund budget, with 34 prison facilities with a population of 43,900 inmates. Heyns is expected to study ways the department can rein in spending while keeping the public safe…

So, he’s against releasing nonviolent prisoners. And, one of his biggest achievements as Sheriff was to have a new jail built. So my sense is that he won’t be amenable to the idea of meaningful prison reform. I suppose it’s possible, though. As State Representative Mike Shirkey told a reporter from the Jackson Citizen Patriot, he’s still kind of new to the corrections field. “He does not have the baggage of having a long career in corrections, which allows him to view some of the bureaucracy challenges in a different light,” said Shirkey. And, he’s apparently beginning his tenure with a trip to other Great Lakes states, in hopes of determining why it is that they spend less on corrections than we do. (It seems to me that he might have wanted to do a little research on this point before shooting down Granholm’s reform agenda, but I guess that’s not how politics works.)

Oh, and I don’t know where Snyder stands on the prison budget at the moment, but, as of late February, he was calling for an increase in spending. The following comes from the Michigan Policy Network:

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released his budget proposal for 2012 and 2013 on Thursday February, 17th. Most experts expected to see correction cuts to be somewhere around $400 million, however, the Governor surprised many with his proposal of $2 billion dollars for 2012, a slight increase over the previous year (.6 percent) and $2.1 billion for 2013, an increase of 4.3 percent year over year…

To put that in perspective, the Governor, at the very same time, is calling for a 15% cut in spending on higher education… And folks wonder why bright, young people are leaving Michigan.

Lastly, for those of you who didn’t read my last post on prison reform, here’s a short quote from State Senator Rebekah Warren, who was speaking at a town hall meeting on the Governor’s budget.

WARREN: (Reading a question submitted by a member of the audience) “Please elaborate on the $1.9 billion spent on prisons vs. the $1.2 billion on higher ed. Could this be true? It sounds outrageous.”

(Responding) It’s absolutely true. Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of just four states in the nation that spend more on corrections than they do on higher education…

All of our corrections funding comes out of our general fund – our most flexible dollars – that could go to any program that we think is important. It doesn’t come in a silo from Washington, that has to go to one specific program or another. Corrections now eats up almost a whole quarter of our entire general fund budget. Michigan spends way more on corrections than most of our other Great Lakes States neighbors do. We put people in prison for longer sentences, for the same crimes. Michigan has interpreted truth in sentencing to mean that you are not eligible for parole until you have hit 100% of your minimum sentence, whereas under federal law, and in many other states, it’s 85% – if you’ve done the coursework that you’re supposed to do, whether it’s anger management, or substance abuse counselling, or whatever it is that you need to do to be a model prisoner – you could be considered for parole at 85% of your sentence. What we find in Michigan is, because of some challenges in the parole system, most of our prisoners are serving 120% of their minimum required sentence. And, so, that cost for us, depending on what facility they’re in, is between $35,000 and $50,000 per year, per prisoner.

There are a lot of recommendations that have come to the legislature that say, we need to do away with some of our mandatory minimum sentences that we instituted in the ’90s, when we got ‘tough on crime’ like a lot of other folks… We locked up first time drug offenders that were pretty small offenders, even if they were non-violent. We locked them away for life in prison, or certain mandatory length sentences… We have to decide who it is that we’re really afraid of. Public safety has to be paramount – it has to be the number one thing we look at when we talk about corrections funding – but for the folks we’re just mad at, that weren’t violent offenders, that really needed treatment more than they needed prison, we have a lot of alternatives now in community corrections and in tether technology. We’ve gotten so advanced in tether technology that we could be getting folks out of our corrections system, and have them back in the community, hopefully working, and paying restitution, if that’s what they’ve been ordered to do, and taking care of their family, and their child support obligations if they have them, and really becoming part of society, instead of us spending $50,000 a year to keep them in prison.

There are a lot of reputable organizations that have said there are at least $400 or $500 million in corrections reform that would really be relatively easy. And that’s the kind of Michigan that I want to see, where we’re smart on corrections policy, and not just tough on crime… and that we’re protecting public safety, but that we’re doing in such a way that we’re not spending more on corrections than we are on higher education…

But we’re spending more on prisons this year than last, and we’ve just appointed a man to head the Department of Corrections who has little experience, and a demonstrated hostility toward the idea of meaningful reform. It doesn’t take a genius to see that our priority in this state is twofold – locking people up, and allowing the rich to contribute less of their money to the common good.

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  1. Boy O Boy
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    The prison funding problem like the education funding problem will not be solved by more of our dollars being wasted. Prisoners are very capable of labor. There is plenty of work to be done. If you don’t work you don’t eat. What I’m suggesting probably makes to much sense for the Liberals to understand.

  2. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    every dime spent on prisoner education is a dime that gives back. The data says any education benefit reduces recidivism significantly…just saying re-distributing how we spend on prisoners would be wiser for all.

  3. Knox
    Posted May 2, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    It might have been better to hire someone that didn’t need to take a trip to other great lakes states to see how they were handling corrections. And what’s he going to do when they tell him that they save money by letting nonviolent offenders out early? He’s already gone on record saying that he won’t do that. We’re fucked. It could have been worse, though. Snyder could have appointed the CEO of a for-profit prison corporation.

  4. cmadler
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I think the end result of this is obvious…use prison labor to teach classes.

  5. Mr. X
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I want the contract for the shuttle service transferring teens from their for-profit inner city schools to the private prisons where they’ll be warehoused. I’d also like the concession for the legal organ trade that’s bound to develop once we give prisoners the right to sell lungs, kidneys, hands and whatever else they might have of value. They, after all, should have the right to do with their bodies as they please (unless they’re pregnant women, of course).

6 Trackbacks

  1. […] in business taxes. And, as we’ve discussed here on other occasions, he’s calling for an increase in spending on corrections, in spite of the dropping prison […]

  2. […] of legislation that would see public education further defunded across our state at every level, as our spending on incarceration grows. And, even more shameful, these proposed Republican cuts to public education are taking place at a […]

  3. […] Does this mean that we should thank Rick Snyder, and the Republicans in Lansing? No. They’ve still made a choice to favor tax breaks to industry over investment in education. While cuts to higher-ed may not ultimately be 22%, as we’d feared, and cuts to K-12 education may not reach 3.5%, it’s sill true that significant cuts are being made so that $1.7 billion can be given back to corporations, and even more can be spent on prisons. […]

  4. […] we’ve discussed here in the past, Michigan is one of only four states that spends more on corrections than it does on education. And, believe it or not, the amount spend on prisons is actually growing this year, even as school […]

  5. […] probably also worth noting that Michigan is one of the few states that spends more on prisons than higher education. This entry was posted in Michigan, Uncategorized and tagged corporate income tax, corporate tax […]

  6. […] a backdrop of already steadily-declining state support for higher education. Last year, the state, which already spent more on prisons than on higher education, passed a budget that saw university funding decrease by an additional 22%, prompting speculation […]

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