43,000 Michigan prisoners: Who should we cut loose first?

With a bipartisan push gaining steam to reform the state's criminal justice and prison systems, two questions are worth asking: Just who occupies Michigan's 35 prisons? And should they all be behind bars?

In 2013, the most recent year made available by the state, the Michigan Department of Corrections cataloged a prison population of 43,704. More than 30,000 prisoners were in for violent crime, including murder, rape and armed robbery. Nearly 10,000 were sentenced for nonviolent offenses, including driving while intoxicated, breaking and entering and home invasion. Just over 3,300 were imprisoned for drug crimes, including dealing hard drugs like cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine.

With bipartisan momentum building for a reduction in Michigan’s prison population, the devil, as always, is in the details. Several categories of prisoners would seem prime candidates for release, including: those convicted of nonviolent property or drug crimes (a relatively small number); a larger volume of prisoners who are serving, on average, far longer prison terms than the national average, and elderly prisoners.

Michigan’s nonviolent, “non-assaultive” prison population in 2013 included 67 in prison for failure to pay child support; 277 for passing bad checks and 515 for shoplifting. There were eight in prison for prostitution and five for breaking and entering “a coin-operated device” ‒ typically, smashing a parking meter to get its coins.

RELATED: "Hell freezes over ‒ GOP and ACLU push prison reform"

Those in for drug offenses include 169 for selling marijuana, 319 for possession of less than 25 grams of a narcotic like heroin or cocaine and 11 for possession of marijuana.

Noting it costs $35,000 a year to house a prisoner in Michigan in a $2 billion prison budget, one reform advocate said taxpayers – and politicians – ultimately will have to decide if they want to continue to foot this financial bill for this caliber of inmate.

“If you choose to use prison as a last resort for people who are dangerous to the public, then you could push Michigan's prison population way down,” said Barbara Levine of the Lansing-based Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, or CAPPS, a nonprofit criminal justice reform advocacy group.

“There needs to be some alternative for people who are stealing or destroying property or doing drugs that may not present a threat of immediate harm. We have not been very good at developing alternatives.”

In June, CAPPS issued a blueprint for cutting Michigan's prison population by 10,000, through two dozen recommendations. They include reducing the number of offenders entering prison, reducing sentence lengths, increasing paroles and instituting earned-sentencing credits for good behavior.

Ann Arbor attorney John Shea, who sits on a state advisory panel dealing with prison reform, cautioned that drawing conclusions about criminal sentencing patterns can be deceiving, without knowing the details of each individual case. For example, someone listed as being sent to prison for pot possession could have been sentenced because he was on probation for domestic violence and failed to meet his probation schedule.

But Shea agreed with Levine that Michigan's prison population has ballooned to unreasonable levels, rising from just under 18,000 1985 to 41,000 in 1995 and peaking at more than 51,000 in 2006 before dropping to current levels. The cost of prisons as a share of the general fund budget has soared seven-fold over three decades: from 3 percent of the budget in 1980, to 21 percent in 2013.

Michigan inmates stay longer

A 2012 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit public policy organization, found that violent offenders in Michigan served an average sentence length in 2009 of 7.6 years, compared with a national average of 5 years. Michigan’s property crime offenders that year served an average of 2.9 years, compared with the national average of 2.3 years.

According to MDOC, there are about 1,900 prisoners who have served their minimum sentence but were denied release by the parole board even though they qualify as a low risk to reoffend.

A 2014 report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that in 2012, most parole-eligible prisoners in Michigan had served 125 percent of their minimum sentence, at an additional cost of $300 million a year to state taxpayers.

Like Levine, Shea said the state's criminal justice system needs to better sort out who truly poses a risk to society. “Prison should be a place where people go because society needs protection from them,” Shea said. “I haven't heard any stories about chronic shoplifters turning into more dangerous people.”

In addition to longer sentences, Michigan mirrors much of the nation in its disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and other people of color.

According to MDOC, 54 percent of the prison population in 2013 was “non-white,” a category that is not exclusive to African Americans. Officials say the total also includes Asians, Native Americans and possibly Hispanics who self-identify as non-white.

According to the Public Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit prison research organization, blacks comprised 14 percent of Michigan’s population in 2010, but 49 percent of the population in jail and state or federal prison. PPI found that blacks were incarcerated at more than six times the rate of whites, with 344 whites incarcerated per 100,000 population, compared with 588 Hispanics, 924 Native Americans and 2,169 blacks per 100,000 population.

A 2009 report on the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” by the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberty Union linked the color sentencing disparity in part to disportionate school suspension and expulsions of minorities, mirroring a study by the U.S. Department of Education that found black students were 3.5 times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled. A 2005 Texas study concluded that the single greatest predictor of youth incarceration was a history of school discipline.

Progressive advocates of prison reform argue that any bipartisan effort to reduce the state’s prison population must include a comprehensive look at criminal justice practices and sentencing patterns that, consciously or not, disproportionately incarcerate black men and women.

Finding common ground

The spike in Michigan's prison population in the 1980s and 1990s paralleled a national rise in reported crime and an emerging war on drugs, as well as changes to the state's criminal justice system.

In 1992, after 38-year-old paroled rapist Leslie Allen Williams confessed to the abduction and slaying of four teenage girls in Oakland and Genesee counties, Gov. John Engler remade the prison parole board, replacing professional civil servants with political appointees. Parole rates plummeted. Adding to the incarceration rate, the state adopted tough “truth-in-sentencing” guidelines in 1998 that mandated prisoners serve at least their minimum sentence in a secure facility. The guidelines ended provisions for reduced prison terms in exchange for good behavior.

But with violent crime nearly cut in half from a peak of roughly 800 crimes per 100,000 population in 1986 to about 450 per 100,000 in 2012 ‒ and Michigan's prison population still well above 40,000 ‒ reform advocates are again pressing for change.

The issue is back on the political front after a host of reform efforts fell apart at the end of the 2014 legislative session amid opposition from GOP state Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette warned the proposed reforms would jeopardize public safety.

Schuette aside, prison reform is being pushed on the national stage by a rising number of conservative figures including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and the Heritage Foundation. In Michigan, the latest reform proposals come from the GOP-controlled state House, as a national bipartisan criminal justice reform group (see accompanying story) announced its intent to lobby for reform in Michigan.

In Michigan, advocates point to other prison numbers they say underscore the need for reform. They include:

Elderly prisoners. Michigan's prison population is aging, bringing with it added costs.
According to a 2013 report by the state House Fiscal Agency, the percentage of inmates in their 50s and 60s more than tripled between 1994 and 2012, from 5.8 percent in 1994 to 18.1 percent in 2012.

The 2013 Michigan prison population included 414 prisoners age 70 to 79, with more than 2,000 in their 60s. It included 43 prisoners over age 80, most housed at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. In its geriatric unit, inmates, many serving life sentences, shuffle around with walkers or in wheelchairs. Some need assistance to bathe or dress. Many look forward to weekly bingo sessions.

A 2010 analysis by the state Senate Fiscal Agency found that annual health care costs rise dramatically by age, from an average of $4,800 for prisoners age 35 to 39, to $9,000 for prisoners age 50 to 54, to $16,000 for prisoners age 65 to 69, to $40,000 for prisoners over 80.

According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the 10 most costly prisoners in the state racked up an average of more than $220,000 in health care or mental health care expenses in 2013, totaling $2.2 million. A 65-year-old male, serving a term at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson for two counts of second-degree criminal sexual assault, topped the list at $316,420.

Before he left office in 2014, former state Rep. Haveman – who has lobbied for prison reform for years – argued that Michigan should adopt a program to allow release of some geriatric or sick prisoners, modeled after one launched in Connecticut in 2013 to move terminally ill or incapacitated prisoners to a 90-bed, state-run nursing home. The program allows the state to shift costs from its corrections budget to Medicaid.

“This could save a lot of money,” Haveman said. “What's the point of keeping all these people locked up until they die?”

The mentally ill. Approximately 20 percent – or about 8,500 inmates – have symptoms of severe mental illness, according to projections from a 2010 report to MDOC. The study was a collaboration between the University of Michigan Institute of Gerontology of the School of Public Health and the Department of Psychiatry, with the Michigan Public Health Institute conducting interviews of 618 subjects at 25 prisons.

According to the report, 65 percent experiencing severe mental illness symptoms received no mental health treatment in the previous 12 months from MDOC. It also found that 84 percent of the total prison population and 92 percent of those with severe mental illness had a history of substance abuse.

The findings on mental illness appear to be a partial legacy of Michigan's decision from 1987 to 2003 to close most of its state-run mental hospitals, in many cases releasing patients to communities ill-prepared to deal with them. Unsupervised, many stopping taking their medications and some winded up committing criminal offenses that landed them in jail or prison.

In 2014, Snyder signed legislation to expand Michigan mental health court system after a three-year study found that the courts work.

The State Administrative Corrections Office evaluated eight mental health courts and found that participants were much less likely to re-offend than than non-participants. The courts allow some defendants to be sent to mental health treatment instead of jail.

Michigan now has 20 mental health courts, 17 for adults and three for juveniles, according to Linda Burghardt, President and CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan.

“They are very effective,” Burghardt said.

“They should be continued, expanded, improved even more. We definitely need to expand mental health courts, divert more people from the prison system, get them treatment, get them medications that will stabilize their condition. We need to do all of that.”

Parole violators. More than 2,000 prisoners were returned to prison in 2013 as a result of “technical” parole violations, according to a report released earlier this year by CAPPS. These are prisoners released from prison after serving at least their minimum sentences but returned for violating terms of their supervision.

The CAPPS report also found that about 2,700 prisoners were sentenced to prison for either technical probation violation or probation violation. The technical parole violators were convicted of a felony and sentenced to probation instead of prison, but then sent to prison because they violated the terms of their supervision.

According to CAPPS, the violation may have involved such noncriminal conduct as changing a residence without permission or criminal behavior that was not prosecuted. Other probation violators committed a new criminal offense while under supervision, with the decision to revoke probation up to the judge. CAPPS maintains that sending parole or probation violators back to prison should be reserved for the most serious offenses.

The drug addicted. In 2007, then-Washtenaw County Circuit Court Judge Donald E. Shelton submitted extensive research on sentencing for his master's degree thesis for Eastern Michigan University, examining 5,000 felony cases that came before him for sentencing from 1990 to 2007.

His finding: Approximately 70 percent of the felonies were somehow drug related. It found that 90 percent of felony property crimes were tied to drugs.

“By drug-related, I don't just mean possession or distribution,” said Shelton, who retired from the bench in 2014 and now directs the Criminal Justice Program at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“These are crimes committed while under the influence of drugs. These are crimes committed to feed an ongoing drug addiction.

“What those figures tell us is that we have a disease problem. Locking up people that have a disease has not been successful.”

Shelton contends that many of these offenders are better served by substance abuse treatment instead of jail or prison. He acknowledges this proposal would require not only a change in attitude among judges and prosecutors but also expanded treatment facilities ‒ a tall and expensive political order.

RELATED: “Michigan gets serious about the high cost of prisons”

Attorney General Schuette – who was influential in persuading legislators to reject the 2014 prison reform proposals – is standing his ground. Whether the politics of the issue will play out the same this fall remains to be seen.

AG spokeswoman Andrea Bitely issued a statement on Schuette's behalf noting that 70 percent of Michigan's prisoners are violent offenders and that 22 percent are incarcerated because they are habitual offenders. She said Schuette continues to oppose presumptive parole and “watering down” felony firearm provisions.

“Those that go to prison are the most violent of offenders, and quite often have committed previous felonies,” Bitely wrote. “As the AG has said time and time again, protecting the public is the primary purpose of our criminal justice system.”

}] }); });

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Thu, 08/20/2015 - 7:47am
Whatever is decided the fingers will be pointing and accusations made about poor decision making when an early release prisoner commits murder or some other serious crime with a lot of "I told you so's"
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 9:57am
I agree with didisaythat. The reason: I'll bet violent criminals will be set free before nonviolent cannabis/hemp users are set free. Why: If there is one thing our society "hates" it's God's green herb!
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 10:31am
WXYZ Detroit proved my point here as they reported on the Terrence Kellom shooting incident yesterday. Paragraph three of their online report is one sentence which reads: "His toxicology report showed there was also marijuana in Kellom's system." Unfortunately the WXYZ editor who edited this piece failed to remove the word "also" from this sentence when they were removing the other drugs found in Kellom's system. As you can see from the downloadable toxicology report other drugs with a presumed positive result in Kellom's system include Opiates, Benzoadiazepines, as well as Cannabinoids. Alcohol was also confirmed to be in his system. Apparently, WXYZ's Anu Prakash doesn't think you need to know any of this this. What you need to know is KELLOM HAD MARIJUANA IN HIS SYSTEM!!! Her online report confirms her/WXYZ's unabashed biased reporting. Remember poster boy for the New World Order President George HW Bush? The results of his zero tolerance, three strike drug policies can be seen in the above chart showing the soaring prison population. This soaring prison population is the result of his New World Order policies. In her report, WXYZ's Prakash went out of her way to demonize God's green herb and provide cover for Big Pharma. Thses are characteristics of the NWO. Looks like WXYZ is one of the NWO's thousand points of light.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 10:22am
70% percent of Michigan's prison population is made up of violent offenders? When Bill Schutte starts quoting statics, hold on to your wallet. The older I get, the less faith I have in our "Criminal Justice System". 1) because it is criminal; 2) because there is very little justice involved. We lock people up, provide minimal counseling/rehab/education. and are SURPRISED when they turn into repeat offenders. Yet we refuse to address the issue when it would have the most effect, starting with pre-school.
Sun, 08/23/2015 - 8:41pm
I have to agree 100% my husband is incarcerated for a probation violation on a possession charge and the only required program is violence prevention program, the intake denied his documented depression and probable PTSD. This time is going to change what?
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 10:58am
So, contrary to popular opinion, the prisons are not full of people convicted of using drugs and stealing property (2/3 are violent offenders). What your article doesn’t point out is that the drug offenders in prison are DRUG DEALERS – they make a profit off ruining other people’s lives and if you’ve ever seen the ruination first hand including kids growing up with heroin addicted parents and babies born addicted to crack, you wouldn’t call it a non-violent offense in the first place. And even then drug dealers only go to prison for very large quantities of drugs or when they have a long criminal history. The article also minimizes property crimes. A person who commits home invasion entered a person’s home – perhaps at night, perhaps while the occupants were sleeping in bed. Shouldn’t they go to prison? Even then, persons convicted of home invasion don’t go to prison unless the home owner is injured or they have a long criminal history or they were originally put on probation and repeatedly violate the terms of probation. Your article states that alternatives to incarceration haven’t been adequately explored, yet the number of treatment courts (probation in lieu of jail or prison time) has exploded in the past 10 years. The truth is, alternatives to incarceration if done right are often more expensive than prison. If the state would invest money in people at the front end, we wouldn’t have so many prisoners in the first place, but I have little hope that the Legislature will ever have the backbone to do that. Finally, did you notice the stat that while prison population has gone up 238%, MDOC's share of the budget has gone up 700%. You can cut the number of prisoners all you want, but MDOC keeps spending more and more money.
Jay Charles
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 4:00pm
"If the state would invest money in people at the front end, we wouldn’t have so many prisoners in the first place...", Absolutely true! But this legislature will never see that, especially since term limits. Whether it be roads, education, health care, etc. it is easier for them to defer the spending on preventative measures. After all, they'll be gone in six years and the more expensive problem becomes that of the future politicians who replaced them.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 6:31pm
Bob, The rise of heroin use is due to prescription drug use so let's start locking up physcians and pharma executives, at least jail conditions would improve! Alcoholism destroys more lives than all the other drugs put together but acohol is leagal and taxed and liquor store dealers are making a killing: http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-.... Let's get our facts straight and make informed decisions. There are over 700,000 pot users arrested every year in the US which inludes repeat offeners that get stiffer sentences. Laws differ from state to state and Michigan is certainly not one of the most progressive. Growing even one pot plant in your basement is a felony punishable for up to 4 years in prison and $20,000 in fines so don't think relatively small amounts of pot is a slap on the wrist: http://norml.org/laws/item/michigan-penalties-2 . Pot is not heroin although it is classified by the Feds as equally dangerous.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:07am
And another thing, the article states: "But with violent crime nearly cut in half from a peak of roughly 800 crimes per 100,000 population in 1986 to about 450 per 100,000 in 2012 ‒ and Michigan's prison population still well above 40,000 ‒ reform advocates are again pressing for change." Did these reform advocates ever stop to consider whether tougher sentencing laws might be the reason why violent crime has dropped by nearly 50% in Michigan? Or that softer sentencing laws will have the opposite affect on prison population if violent crime goes up (not to mention the harm to crime victims and society in general)?
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:15am
With Schuette running for governor in 2018 expect any reform process to become extremely political.
Jay Charles
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 3:53pm
Schuette is running for governor? I;m shocked, shocked!!
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 7:06pm
I know, its amazing isn't it? LOL
Ron Lemke
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 3:53pm
Would it be more cost efficient to put some of these people in jail rather than prison? Hard working people are often under insured or uninsured and cant get the necessary help they need and cant afford yet we will take care of our prisoners. Something is wrong with this picture. My daughter works and pays $820 a month for insurance for herself and family. Love to hear from you all. R.L.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 6:41pm
First, don't vote Republican! Has she applied for Obamacare? It sounds like she would qualify for a subsidy. Decriminalize, regulate and tax recreational drug use like cigarettes and alcohol. There will be more funds available for your daughter an less spent on unecessary prisoners.
Charles Richards
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 4:03pm
Ann Arbor attorney John Shea was quoted as saying "“Prison should be a place where people go because society needs protection from them,.“I haven't heard any stories about chronic shoplifters turning into more dangerous people.” Aren't the costs of shoplifting passed on to consumers? Does he consider that acceptable? Mr. Roelofs says, "According to the Public Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit prison research organization, blacks comprised 14 percent of Michigan’s population in 2010, but 49 percent of the population in jail and state or federal prison. PPI found that blacks were incarcerated at more than six times the rate of whites, with 344 whites incarcerated per 100,000 population, compared with 588 Hispanics, 924 Native Americans and 2,169 blacks per 100,000 population." Shouldn't he have acknowledged that after you adjust those figures for the elevated crime rates among those groups, that there is little, if any, disparity in incarceration rates? Writing about the "School to Prison Pipeline", he says, "A 2005 Texas study concluded that the single greatest predictor of youth incarceration was a history of school discipline." Here, he is making the common mistake of not allowing for a common factor that accounts for both phenomenon. Isn't it possible that there are behavioral traits that account for both increased rates of school discipline and increased incarceration rates? Should some students be allowed to disrupt and degrade others' education? It is true that this country, and this state, locks up an extremely high percentage of its population and that there are reforms we could undertake that would reduce our overall crime costs. But there is no point in reducing government expenditures on prison beyond the point where the savings are outweighed by the costs those reductions impose on law abiding citizens. Mr. Roelofs has made no attempt to say at what point that occurs. What collection of fraud, home invasions, robberies, assaults, rapes and murders for each $100 million dollars saved in corrections costs would he consider too much? Mr. Roelofs article would have been much more insightful if he had read "The Collapse of American Criminal Justice" by the late William J Stuntz. He emphasizes the inverse relationship between the number of cops per 100,000 population and the number of prisoners. He says "More cops on city street corners tend to mean fewer inmates in prison cells. The lenient style of criminal justice in northern cities a century ago used large police forces, the more severe South was much less well policed. The link between more cops and fewer prisoners remains strong today - as does the link between those two characteristics and lower crime rates. The city with the biggest increase in the size of its police force during the 1990s was New York. The same city saw the biggest drop in urban crime during the 1990s. And the state that saw one of the smallest rises in its imprisonment rate in that decade and the biggest imprisonment drop since is again New York." He goes on to say, "Putting more police officers on city streets belongs on a very short list of policy moves that should reduce both crime and the number of prisoners."
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 5:06pm
I agree, as do many other people. Rick Wershe was only 17 years old! Cruel & unusual punishment.
Mon, 08/24/2015 - 8:57am
He's also a Level IV prisoner....because of his behavior in prison. I don't want him in my backyard. You're nuts!
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 4:28pm
Rick Wershe has already served more time in prison that any other non-violent offender in Michigan's history and he's also the only non-violent juvenile offender in the nation who doesn't have an out-date from prison. This after already serving 28 years for a drug charge he got as a minor! "The Clemency Report named Richard Wershe Jr., a 46-year-old with a colorful past, as Michigan's inmate most deserving of clemency. He was arrested for cocaine at age 17, in May 1987, and has been serving his life for this single, non-violent offense ever since. Richard gained fame in the Detroit area as "White Boy Rick" when the DEA and other officers used him as an informant starting at age 14. He was busted for possession with intent to distribute eight kilograms of cocaine at age 17. He has been turned down for parole three times and will be eligible again in 2017. His case has been detailed in many news stories and further information can be found at the FreeWhiteBoyRickWershe Facebook page." - http://clemencyreport.org/richard-wershe-jr-named-michigans-no-1-inmate-...
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 4:30pm
Let's face it... anyone with a smidgen of intelligence knows that there was a prison population explosion in the 90s and early 2000s for job creation. Let's build the prisons, create a lot of local jobs in failing rural areas, ramp up a bit of local spending and housing booms as a result of those jobs, and voila! Problem solved. But wait... now with 30+ new prisons built, we have to fill them! And we need to keep them filled. Any talks of closing prisons have state MDOC workers and the corresponding towns in an uproar over job losses. Other states have lesser sentences, more rehabilitation, more programs and support systems for parolees and early-out programs like Good Time. Was Michigan any more or less dangerous in 1985 than here in 2015? Hardly. But state-driven propaganda would have us believing so if "dangerous" criminals were let out early or given reductions in their sentences.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 6:44pm
Well stated!
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 9:07am
I invite you to back up your rhetoric with stats. Yes, there were prisons built in underserved, rural areas. But, talk to any one of the prison guards who were in that supposedly cushy state job and ask them just how much fun they had guarding those criminals. The guards were cut while prison populations increased, while legislators gave themselves raises and administrative costs became top heavy. Guards didn't know on a daily basis what they would be facing each day - were they gonna come home that night? They are "armed" with only a walkie talkie and there are hundreds of prisoners to only a handful of guards. I have a stepson who was a prison guard for 25+ years and when he started out he had more support from levels up but it dwindled significantly over the years. He would say that Lansing needed to actually listen to the guards and it never has happened. He hated his job and was finally able to retire with a noticeable difference in his demeanor when he did. Prisoners are still given all kinds of perks (why do prisoners get cable tv?) while the guards were ordered to suck it up. And yes, some of these prisons were built in rural areas such as the UP but they were stripped of a lot of their economy when the military bases closed down and the areas were becoming poorer than poor. Not to mention the fact that it's a catch 22 as to which prisoners are released. A person could be in prison for a "minor" crime like shoplifting, possession or what have you, but, have a history of domestic violence, even be housed for domestic violence in previous years but only have the current penalty reviewed, then released and goes out and commits a far more heinous crime. We've all heard those stories on the news! Yes, something needs to be done to reform the system, but, what? I don't envy anyone taking on that task with the actual hope of doing what's best for us as citizens and without their own consideration for personal gain.
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 8:23am
Ask the Department of Corrections staff that work with prisoners.
Ronald Taylor
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 5:30pm
that isn't the way things are done in the modern world. How it is done, is you ask someone in an office that doesn't have a clue what is going on in the prisons or on the streets.
Lola Johnson
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 9:17am
We currently have one president, two former presidents and multiple presidential candidates who've admitted to doing drugs. Only one of them has been at real risk of going to prison for it....the black one. We need to stop incarcerating people who are not dangerous to the public, stop privatizing prisons and prison services, and put that money into better training and benefits for a professional group of corrections officers.
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 3:32pm
The article left me with two impressions, the incarcerated felons are not responsible for their crimes or incarceration (the drugs are responsible, it was their ethnicity, etc.) and that the only cost that matters is the cost of incarceration (no mention of the cost to the victim or potential victims). It appears by omission that neither the coalition nor Mr. Roelofs have any concern for unintended consequence, none were mention and no mention of a felon repeating the crime when not in jail. SInce cost to the government is the only issue this leaves me to speculate that decriminalizing non-violent crimes is something that could be a logical progression for the members of this coalition, it would cut budget costs from arrest through trial and administrative follow-up even more. Treat the embezzler the same as the honest worker, treat the con-man the same as the hones contractor, treat the current felons the same as honest citizens as long as there is no blood, it saves money for the state.
Ronald Taylor
Fri, 08/21/2015 - 5:28pm
Release the ones that the rich want to live in their neighborhoods and stay in their homes.
Sat, 08/22/2015 - 10:54am
I liked the article. It had some good info within. I have to add. There is a desire to minimize why some are in the state prison system. Anyone sent to a state prison is rarely a first offender unless it was a class one felony or habitual or a danger to society. Our criminal justice system is rife with community service and/or fines, then probation and fines, then jails. To make it to State Prison tells much about the offender. One must remember, EVERYONE incarcerated is fully innocent; one only need ask them. The stats on what defined cultural groups are comprised are specious as if they are convicted, they deserve punishment no matter the culture, race, creed or national origin. Illegal is illegal and a state prison valued crime is a crime against all of us. 99% have earned that honor in some manner. No one is the state prison system isn't aware of what's right and wrong in life with other people. They had disregard for others for their own needs and desires. Who isn't aware of accountability and what's allowed? Drug users and dealers are in prison for a self-imposed hardship. How many are addicted or sell from a gun to the head? Life is choices and some never make the right ones. They are scary people. Society as a whole has become more and more course and so many don't fear the consequences until it confronts them. Yes, it causes more and more inmates. Prison costs and the numbers inside are a reflection of the populations disregard for the rule of law, laziness and opportunistic behavior. One group having the larger numbers simply reflects their ideology. The number of state inmates simply expresses that too many fit the criteria for their plight. I never see the statistics for those who were incarcerated in jails or prisons who never return. So many get the rude awakening and learn to stay straight and find a new path. Just as the cost of maintaining roads and bridges has gone up, so has the cost of protecting all the rest of society from predators of any kind and type. As the need increases so does the cost. The public in general has an opinion and there is no outcry from the population at large to reduce prison and jail inmate numbers. Perhaps one would be surprised to see the results from a statewide ballot on what to do. As the numbers of victims and their families and friends grows with the increase in inmates, the desire for public safety and freedom increases. Crimes and criminals cost a lot more to individuals trying to protect themselves than the cost of prisons. Perhaps if prison space was greater there would be less cost to people for locks, guns, alarms, gates, fences, guards, security forces, cameras, electronics, insurance premiums and a hundred other things that have simply become mainstream as part of living where the threat to innocent, law-abiding folks is a constant and just accepted. That's the issue people should address. Why are we forced to live that way?
Sat, 08/22/2015 - 12:28pm
Why do we have prisons? What is their purpose? Who do they benefit? What is the total cost of imprisonment to the community as a whole? What are the consequences to the community as a whole when the convicted felon has access to the community (not imprsioned)? What is the likelihood that felons who have a crime will commit that crime again or another (more severe) crime with the opportunity? Is imprisonment only about the criminal or could it be about living in a community? What is the message to the whole of the community if the convicted felons is not imprisoned (experiences no apparent punishment)? What is the precieved difference between the criminal and the honest person when no prison time, how does a potential victim tell the difference? Is there a precieved difference in the severity of the crime if there is no imprisonment for the crime? Why don't we hear the proponents of this change addressing the unintended consequences?
Sun, 08/23/2015 - 6:25am
This discussion should be broadened to a comparison of incarceration in jails vs. prisons. As brokengovt implies, there is a filter in place that keeps many convicted persons in jails (typically run by counties) rather than sending them to state prison. I haven't kept up with this, but some years ago the criteria were stiffened so that more convicts remain in jail rather than being sent to prison. Most minor offenses don't qualify a convict for prison. A full discussion of this issue should look at this half of the picture as well. Jails are quite an expense for counties. Are we sorting offenders properly between the two options?
Sun, 08/23/2015 - 8:48am
Thanks Bridge for helping identify opportunities to reduce MI's $2B Department of Corrections expense and public policy that may be more influenced by political optics than sound fiscal and social policy.
Peter Parker
Sun, 08/23/2015 - 6:53pm
I have to comment here given the great misrepresentations (including Shc_tty). First, many of the prison population, like Washtenaw Co. Judge notes are drug related (either to get, to get stuff to sell to buy, or involved in the trade). So a reasonable man would ask: Why are "drugs" so lucrative and profits so massive they can even buy the Mexican Government {El Chappo did not tunnel a mile INTO a prison, with a motorcycle in the tunnel without some Gov. help} ? Because they are illegal !!! Remember Capone was created when We made Alcohol illegal? Hence, the "solution" was worse, or created a worse "problem" than the original problem ! Then will had the crime spree with Bonnie & Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly , et al. So,What do we do in the 1970s? THE EXACT SAME THING AL LA "DRUGS" -- And the US's World Wide "War on Drugs" has been a catastrophe for the US and the World --- it has corrupted EVERYTHING. So we exported Prohibition ver. 2, to the worldwide ...to the PLANET. Drugs corrupts everything from (getting) Employment (if you smoke weed, forget a job, but the alcoholic that beats His Wife weekly when drunk manages walmart and Sears Stores..... to the so-called "Justice System" (now universally reviled by the population rich go free, the poor get screws and go to Prison..more on that) to entire Governments (and the CIA/FBI deals drugs, and IS protecting El Chappo (as Sonora Cartel members inform/ tell the Gov. about their "competition" - other drug cartel memberss -- so they could arrest them and make big TV News. Watch PBS on it, as the Mexican Invest. Journalists could not figure out how the Sonora Cartel kept not getting caught (including Chappo) over and over and over for 2 decades. THE CARTEL OWNS THE MEXICAN GOV. LOCK, STOCK, AND BARREL ! So, what does all this have to do with Michigan Prisons? End the Drug War. Period. Regulate. No Kid can get booze, but they can (because it is NOT regulated) get drugs and not just MJ..anything as those people want them to buy more addictive drugs. Guess where Heroin use has not rose in decades ? Amsterdam. Same in Portugal where they legalized ALL Drugs and treat it like it should be -- a medical health issue. IF PROHOBITION TAUGHT US ONE THING -- PEOPLE *WILL* GET WHAT THEY WANT, LEGALLY, BUT IF NOT, 50% WILL GO ILLEGAL. So given that FACT, end the war on drugs, end the massiv eprofits -- end MOST of the problems, and redirect the "war on drug money" to those programs (and We would have enough LEFT OVER to fix every road and bridge in the entire USA in ONE YEAR (As we could surely find enough workers as jobs are not come back, mostg just stopped looking hence the unemployment participoation rate is a historic lows.....)! END THE DAMN DRUG WAR, it is a disease and mental issue......Kids today Die from smoking FAKE WEED *(When weed has never, ever, ever killed anyone). Such is the situation and I am sick of idiots who do not know their HISTORY from arguing about prison population -- We locked up the African Americans you idiots --- for anything, and railroaded them (in Michigan) with dummy defense (Non) Attorneys who said "Plead Guilty" -- it is not to the point most Kids/People will not talk or call or cooperate with Police...they know the whole system is rigged and they are better off with "street justice" Sad. Where is our JFK, FDR? Are there no good men that have a BRAIN and Have took basic HISTORY?
John Q. Public
Wed, 08/26/2015 - 7:54pm
This is exactly the type of response I would expect from someone who is in love with MARY JANE! :) :) :) :)
Sun, 08/30/2015 - 8:09am
Wise and intelligent reply. THEY, whoever THEY are, will NEVER incarcerate drugs off the street....NEVER... People who don't understand this need to get out from under their rock and pay attention. This book does an incredible job of telling the story - http://chasingthescream.com/
Sun, 08/30/2015 - 8:11am
Thank you Peter Parker... Additionally, no matter your position on drugs....if they are illegal there will always be another person to step into the shoes of those incarcerated or killed...are there really functioning adults with brains that don't understand this?
Peter Parker
Sun, 08/23/2015 - 7:15pm
I have to qualify the above with ILLEGAL DRUGS. ILLEGAL is the issue that makes them so profitable -- if that is removed, and they are well regulated, then we can redirect the monies from those "war on drugs" programs elsewhere. And we will be able to close many of the prisons too !
Mon, 08/24/2015 - 11:36am
It's obvious there are a few here that fully support the legalization of illicit drugs. I wonder why?...I have my own thoughts. I, for one, do not want my kids anywhere near the heroin or meth issues we have right now. These people should be sent to prison for making or distributing these drugs...no question about it. I bet the only people who feel otherwise are liberals, those in low socioeconimic areas and those who are on some form of Gvt. assistance. All of the pot-heads that feel street drugs should be legalized are only fooling themselves too. Most are probably users themselves.
Tue, 08/25/2015 - 3:34pm
Look at the women in prison first, the majority are for non-violent crimes, I know because I was one of them. I spent almost 5 years in prison for embezzlement $50-$100,000 first time ever in trouble, judge over-sentenced me because the victims wanted $500,000 in damages. I was wrong, I deserved to be punished, but as a middle-aged woman who took the first step to make my mistake known and to pay for my crime including restitution payments over $50,000, I'm telling you Lansing does not want to fix MDOC. This is a job creator for the economy, need lots of officers, it is a political volley of "tough on crime" that doesn't work, and Schuette is completely of base on his comments and understanding. I will not vote for him if he runs, and unfortunately I was a big supporter of his when he was a senator. I had the opportunity to participate in a committee on a bill that he proposed specific to health care. Come on look at the states around us and their statistics, our system is completely broken. I can site more then 1 case of a non-violent woman that is beyond her first release date because the parole board recommended a program with a long waiting list, so they sit in prison and wait. Excuse me???? Look to Women's Huron Valley to pilot some programs for early release.
Wed, 08/26/2015 - 1:51pm
I wonder when you were at that tipping point to do the crime what might have caused you to pause and think more about what you were going to do? Looking back was there anything for you that might have caused you to chose diferently? I htink we should have more of a conversation about the things before the crime so we don't need to be so focsed on the costs after the crime.
Tue, 08/25/2015 - 3:36pm
Another point - before quoting stats on assaultive crimes, we need a clear understanding of what is included in this data. I don't believe all these numbers without additional detail.
Tue, 09/29/2015 - 7:53pm
Michigan has always been so proud of their prison system, it keeps the jobs here in pure michissippi. Don't dare discipline your children here in michissippi, we need the liitle fellas to grow up so our prisons can be their new home . Good old bastard michissippi.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 12:17pm
It is well known that Michigan targets low-income and minorities. The state has one of the worst criminal justice systems in the world not the united states. The US Department of Justice should be doing an investigation of many of the county governments.
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 2:27am
Give these people back there life drug dealers keep the murders and the rapist off the street find a better program for drug dealers and felonies let felonies be able to work at plants stop judging them maybe they would stop selling drugs we paying to much of our tax money to prison
Thu, 10/06/2016 - 3:03am
Take this lying snitches off the Street the police Jobs is easy now letting these drug user snitch and lying on people to get a good deal for there self to stay out of prison and to continue doing dirt out here on the streets that's wrong they be having felonies and messing up people life Monroe mi got that so bad they need to get investigated out there they doing people any type of why and selling more drugs then anybody out there and taking pay off to not bust people house