BY BILL SCHUETTE
Proposals that focus on those in prison or about to be released fall short when it comes to broad-based public safety reform. The focus of Michigan’s debate should be on how to improve the safety of Michigan citizens and families.
A report by the Council of State Governments makes clear why Michigan needs to reform its criminal justice system. In a comparison of Great Lakes states:
• Michigan has the highest rate of violent crime.
• Michigan has the highest rate of unsolved violent crime.
• Michigan has the fewest number of police officers per capita. In fact, Michigan has lost more than 1,900 law enforcement officers since 9/11.
• Michigan sends the fewest felons to prison per capita.
There’s no question that Michigan needs to get a handle on its budget for the Department of Corrections. But the cost of incarcerating a prisoner in Michigan averages around $32,800 per year. Ohio spends around $25,300 per prisoner per year. In Texas, the cost is $15,600 per prisoner per year, according to the Pew Center on the States, a division of the Pew Charitable Trusts.*
The Department of Corrections needs to adopt best practices, run prisons more efficiently, and look at bidding out services to save taxpayer funds. For example, Saginaw County jail food service costs are 50% of the food service costs of the DOC.
But the notion that we should control costs by paroling prisoners earlier puts members of the public at risk. Why? There is still a high rate of recidivism, whether a murderer or rapist is in 10 years or 20 years. Accordingly, the public is safer if violent felons are kept in prison longer.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s decision to close eight prisons and prison camps and parole more prisoners earlier means that Michigan has more criminals on the street and far fewer cops on the beat.
America’s military uses a variety of methods to maximize space and keep costs down. The Navy, for example, uses hot bunks, where sailors share sleeping space. Why are these practices OK for our fighting men and women but unacceptable for those who have committed violent crimes?
Finally, the Free Press proposal to restore good time for prisoner behavior would be the death knell for truth in sentencing. Truth in sentencing means that a prisoner will serve at least his or her minimum time. Before the implementation of this practice, some prisoners were back on the streets committing crimes before their minimum sentence had even been reached (and that is still sometimes the case for those prisoners sentenced before the implementation of truth in sentencing). Families, judges and especially victims need to know that those convicted of a crime will serve their minimum time.
Government’s No. 1 job is to keep streets safe, neighborhoods secure and our schools places of learning, not violence. The message to Lansing is clear: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of public safety.
Bill Schuette is a former Michigan Court of Appeals judge. He is campaigning for nomination as attorney general on the Republican ticket.
* This sentence was changed after the original posting to correct the name of the group that provided the statistics.