Public Safety Should be a Top Priority
As we are all aware, Michigan is experiencing very serious economic problems. Home sales are down, and foreclosure rates are up. The state's unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is the highest that it has been all year and continues to be the worst in the nation.
Lawmakers have proposed many government reforms to help reduce the budget deficit. One such reform includes reducing the costs of main budget areas that consume a substantial portion of the state's total budget. The Department of Corrections is one example.
Michigan's per-prisoner cost is too high. More than $31,000 is spent annually for each prisoner, and 78 percent of that cost is directly associated with wages, pensions and health care. Compared with neighboring states, Michigan has the highest incarceration costs due to excessive administrative expenses, skyrocketing healthcare and overall inefficiencies.
Rather than addressing the high per-prisoner cost, the administration recently announced a plan that would place more strain on already cash-strapped local governments by reducing sentencing laws and putting nearly 6,000 convicted felons back on the streets. Ultimately, the plan would enable criminals to get away with more crime and less punishment.
All told, penalties for almost 60 felonies would be reduced and more than 140 felonies would be lowered to misdemeanors. This includes crimes such as negligent homicide, possession of GHB, a common date-rape drug, and fleeing the police. Additionally, criminals could steal $5,000 worth of property under the administration's plan, as opposed to the current law's $1,000, before being charged with a felony.
Instead of easing up on criminals, Michigan needs real solutions. In May, the Senate Prison Reform and Public Safety Subcommittee proposed a list of reforms that could save the state up to $200 million a year in corrections costs without putting public safety at risk.
The subcommittee recommended that Michigan should reduce excessive per-prisoner costs and bring them in line with surrounding states. Some suggestions included: eliminating waste and duplication by requiring a performance audit to improve the department's cost effectiveness; increasing the use of drug intervention courts, faith-based programs, regional jails, and job-training skills for prisoners' re-entry into the workforce; and lowering the recidivism rate by addressing issues that cause prisoners to re-offend, such as substance abuse, mental health issues and lack of education.
To achieve real and long-term cost savings, we need to adopt recommendations released by the prison reform subcommittee. By not addressing the core problems within the Department of Corrections, the state is simply closing its eyes and hoping the problem will go away.
Balancing Michigan's budget at the risk of public safety is not the right solution for our state's economic troubles. It will only cause more problems by endangering families and neighborhoods. Public safety must be one of our top priorities as an important job of policymakers is to protect all Michigan residents.
Posted: Monday, August 13, 2007
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