Reforms could mean fewer prisoners, shorter sentences – and more money for potholes

Who goes to prison, and how long they stay behind bars, may change soon if Gov. Rick Snyder has his way.

The governor will unveil a package of criminal justice reforms Monday which, if enacted, could cut prison populations and slash the state’s prison costs, the highest in the nation.

Details of the reforms Snyder will propose aren’t yet public. But as lawmakers desperately look for ways to fund road repairs, criminal justice reforms could represent a ready source of savings, according to a study of Michigan’s system by the Council of State Governments.

Michigan spends about $2 billion a year on its prison system, devoting a bigger share of its general fund budget to corrections than any other state. In 2013, more than one in five taxpayer dollars went to Michigan prisons.

John Bebow, CEO of The Center for Michigan, the parent organization of Bridge Magazine, testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections in 2012 about the need to cut prison spending.

“The goal is to reach the best balance between crime, punishment and the public’s bill for prisons,” Bebow told the committee.

Bridge has examined the high cost of Michigan’s prisons, as well as potential policy reforms.

Those include:

Conservatives are leading the charge for criminal justice reform. In Texas, a Republican legislature changed sentencing policies to drastically reduce prison population.

“You want to talk about real conservative governance? Shut prisons down. Save that money," said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Stop the recidivism rates – lower them.”

The reforms may find a receptive audience in the Legislature, which is looking for savings that can be used for road repairs.

The biggest opposition may come from Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is expected to run for governor in 2018 and who railed against a series of sentencing reform bills introduced last fall. Schuette’s influence “gutted” those bills, lamented the bills’ author, Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland. Schuette cited public safety concerns in letters he sent to legislators asking them not to vote for the bills.

Haveman, widely viewed as the state’s leading advocate for criminal justice reform, was term-limited out of office in December. In a radio interview in April, Haveman said he was encouraged by the proposals he believed would be included in Snyder’s criminal justice reform address.

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


Darryle Buchanan
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 9:37am
We have had this wrong for too many years. We spend on average $7,000 per year to educate a student, but $38,000 to warehouse a prisoner. Children will only be educated by the state for 13-14 years whereas a convict may be warehoused for varying terms, some much longer. Cutting back on educational costs has resulted in much higher social costs and it was avoidable. Guaranteed that the majority of the prison population is poorly educated, raised in poverty. As a state we can continue down this path of austerity and tough on crime but these are real life issues and the costs are staggering. We need to make the right investment in education or continue to pay these high costs. Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Time to get it right!
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 11:05am
Agreed! This is the land of the free coupon but not the personal freedoms we should be enjoying such as using pot legally in you own home. Spain allows anyone to grow it for their personal use and Colorado is generating millions in tax revenue. The medieval Bill Shutte has held back Michigan long enough by sacrificing our roads and our children's education for his draconian, fanatical, evangelical justice on earth. Let God be the judge. If you want to put people in jail then start putting soccer moms away for running stop signs and truly harming others.
Thu, 05/21/2015 - 7:48pm
So in Washington they spend over $20 K a year per student. With three times the spending there, do they have a proportional decrease in criminal offenses occurring as do we in Michigan?
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 12:58pm
Richard Wershe Jr is juvenile lifer who is now 27+ years into a life sentence. He's spent more time in prison than any non-violent juvenile offender in Michigan's history. He is not a threat to anyone or society so why should he spend another day behind bars for the mistakes he made as a kid?? Please sign and share the petition. Thanks! -> The Free Rick Facebook page -> "In May 1987, when he was 17, Wershe was charged with possession with intent to deliver eight kilos of cocaine, which police had found stashed near his house following a traffic stop. He had the misfortune of being convicted and sentenced under one of the harshest drug statutes ever conceived in the United States, Michigan’s so-called 650 Lifer law, a 1978 act that mandated an automatic prison term of life without parole for the possession of 650 grams or more of cocaine. (The average time served for murder in state prisons in the 1980s was less than 10 years.) Sentencing juvenile offenders to life without parole for non-homicide crimes was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, by which point such sentences were already exceedingly rare; the court was able to locate only 129 inmates serving them nationwide. Michigan eventually acknowledged the failures of the 650 Lifer statute—the governor who signed it into law, William G. Milliken, has called it the greatest mistake of his career—and rolled it back in 1998. Those already serving time became parole eligible and began to be released. Wershe is the only person sentenced under the old law who is still in prison for a crime committed as a juvenile. Prominent and violent kingpins and enforcers from Wershe’s day in Detroit have long since been freed. And yet Wershe has remained incarcerated, for more than 26 years." - From 'The Trials of White Boy Rick' by Evan Hughes. -
Darryle Buchanan
Sun, 05/17/2015 - 6:00pm
The war on drugs is over, you lost! Release the prisoners.
kathy webb
Tue, 07/07/2015 - 9:28pm
Good job it is a good rick you are a good man thank you god thank you
Tue, 07/07/2015 - 9:54pm
My son has been in there for 15 years and has not been in no trouble and going to prison I know now it saved my sons life thank you but it time for me to have my so home and get a job he is a man now he was a kid it will not be easy for hem no one is the same after 10 yrs thank you rick Snyder Kathy Webb