PROVIDING EFFECTIVE USE OF PRISON SPACE
By Elizabeth Arnovits, Executive Director
Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency
The Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency was established in 1956 by citizens concerned with ineffective policies aimed at controlling and preventing crime. The Council remains Michigan's only statewide citizen-led criminal justice, public policy agency. An ongoing focus of the Council has been to reduce the amount of state money spent on ineffective incarceration and to reinvest the savings in proven policies and programs in local communities.
Beginning in 1988, and in response to misdirected “get tough” policies that imposed long minimum prison sentences, Michigan was forced to invest millions of dollars in prison building. During the early 1990's, Michigan was opening a new prison every nine weeks! Today, the Department of Corrections, (DOC) employs one-third of all state employees. Yet, the impact on crime rates of this massive prison build-up is questionable.
It is true that from the mid 1990's, until about 2002, crime rates decreased somewhat. But, given that crime rates have once again begun to rise, it appears that the economy played a much larger role in reducing crime than did the amount of available bed space. Between 1995 and 2002 bed space increased and the economy was booming. Beginning in 2001, the bed space continued to increase but the economy took a nosedive. Long sentences appear to have, at best, diminishing returns. What we do know for sure is that proven crime prevention initiatives (substance abuse and mental health treatment, after school programs, etc.) have been under-funded, in large part due to the resources expended on locking people up.
In 1999, the Michigan Legislature enacted sentencing guideline legislation to be used by judges in the criminal sentencing process. The purpose of guidelines is to reduce disparity in sentences, and predict and control prison and jail bed needs. A Sentencing Guidelines Commission was established and using 1995 data as the norm, created guidelines intended to uphold truth-in-sentencing legislation and provide effective utilization of prison space. The Sentencing Guidelines Commission was to annually evaluate and report to the legislature regarding the impact of the Guidelines on prison and jail resources and to recommend amendments based on that evaluation. Unfortunately, the Commission has not met since establishing the original guidelines.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that the projections on which the Guidelines were established have proven to be inaccurate. The use of prison is much higher than the Commission projected it would be.
It is time to revisit the Guidelines. The Governor has recommended changes to the Guidelines that would more effectively use prison space while still keeping violent offenders off our streets. The Legislature must act quickly as Michigan will run out of beds by next year.
The Legislature should join with the Governor to immediately:
- Reconstitute the Sentencing Guidelines Commission;
- Include probation violators in Guideline structure;
- Increase the use of short term jail sentences in lieu of short term prison sentences; and
- Reinvest to counties all state money saved to be used for community supervision, treatment, and jail costs.
It is incumbent on the Legislature to join the Governor in showing leadership and vision in reducing prison costs and reinvesting in local communities. Public safety concerns demand that we spend scarce resources on proven prevention and treatment initiatives.
One of the benefits of membership with MCCD is receiving our bi-monthly publication called the "E-Bulletin" which features best practice and promising approach programs, of note and research updates, and programs that DON'T work.
Below are a few of the E-Bulletin's that have been emailed to our membership. (To become a member and start receiving the E-Bulletin's, please go to "Membership" on the menu.)
- EB ON Police-based Restorative Justice
- EB Community Anti-Gang Efforts
Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency ~ Children's Services Division
1115 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Ste. 201 19500 Middlebelt Rd.,#200-E
Lansing, Michigan 48912 Livonia, MI 48152
Voice: (517) 482-4161 Voice: (248) 888-1194
Fax: (517) 482-0020 Fax: (248) 888-1290