Michigan’s parole policies waste money, need reform

This comes from the Detroit Free Press

Barbara Levine and Michael LaFaive,  December 13, 2014

Michigan spends nearly 20% of its general-fund dollars locking people up. A portion of that money could be better spent elsewhere, such as on education, roads or pension reform.

Despite cost-containment efforts, the Michigan Department of Corrections spends $2 billion a year, more than $1.6 billion of which is spent directly on operating prisons. If all this spending improved public safety, it would be worth it. However, it does not. One way to reduce spending without compromising public safety is through sentencing and parole reforms.

Michigan sends fewer people convicted of felonies to prison than most other states because we have been a national leader in diverting those convicted of serious offenses into community-based programs. As a result, nearly 70% of our prisoners are serving time for assault offenses. What drives our prison population is how long we keep people locked up, compared to other states.

In its 2012 report, “Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,”the Pew Center reported that Michigan prisoners serve much longer terms for comparable offenses than prisoners in other states. Michigan’s average length of stay is nearly 17 months longer for prisoners overall and 30 months longer for assault offenders.

Read the rest here.

State budget crises push sentencing reforms

By GREG BLUESTEIN
Associated Press
April 2nd 2011

ATLANTA (AP) — As costs to house state inmates have soared in recent years, many conservatives are reconsidering a tough-on-crime era that has led to stiffer sentences, overcrowded prisons and bloated corrections budgets.

Ongoing budget deficits and steep drops in tax revenue in most states are forcing the issue, with law-and-order Republican governors and state legislators beginning to overhaul years of policies that were designed to lock up more criminals and put them away for longer periods of time.

“There has been a dramatic shift in the political landscape on this issue in the last few years,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “Conservatives have led the charge for more prisons and tougher sentencing, but now they realize they need to be just as tough on criminal justice spending.”

Read the rest here.

Alabama Reforms Probation Law to Promote Safety and Reduce Prison Crowding




On April 30, 2010, Alabama Governor Bob Riley signed a new law that limits incarceration in Alabama’s overcrowded prisons for people on probation who commit no new offense but technically violate the terms of their probation. The new law gives judges more non-incarceration options for addressing technical probation violations.

The new probation law is an important first step in addressing Alabama’s prison overcrowding crisis. The state has more than 30,000 inmates in prisons designed to hold around 12,000 inmates. State corrections officials have described the system as a “time bomb waiting to explode.”

Parole and probation revocation cases account for nearly one in four new admissions to prison in Alabama. Nearly half of these revocations were for minor technical violations that did not result in a new offense. Technical violations include missing appointments, unpaid fines, changing residence without permission, and loss of employment.

During fiscal year 2006-2007, 1337 people had their probation revoked for a technical violation and were sent to prison, at a cost to Alabama taxpayers of more than $19 million. Non-incarceration alternatives would have saved the state $18 million.

The new law provides for non-incarceration alternatives to revocation of probation and limits to 90 days the period of incarceration for technical violators whose probation is revoked for something other than a new offense.
States across the country are reforming parole and probation, as technological innovations such as GPS monitors have made it possible to protect the public safety and save money. Alabama has not yet addressed the need for similar changes in its parole system, which regularly sends parolees back to prison for the remainder of their sentences after committing a technical violation, at a cost upwards of $5 million per year.

NJ Overturns Unjust Sentencing Law

From: ACLU-NJ

For Immediate Release
December 10, 2009
Judges will now have discretion in sentencing for non-violent offenses

TRENTON — In a landmark victory for civil rights, the New Jersey Senate today passed a bill (S1866) revising a decades-old policy that had punished people more harshly for committing non-violent drug crimes within several hundred feet of schools, unfairly targeting city dwellers. Once signed into law, individual judges will be able to use their discretion to issue fair sentences appropriate to the crimes committed.

“This legislation is smart on crime, not soft on crime. It marks a major step forward toward achieving justice in New Jersey’s criminal justice system,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “New Jersey’s judges will now have authority to sentence people based on the severity of the crime, not the location.”

This legislation overturns the drug-free school zone law, which mandated lengthy sentences for any drug crime committed near a school. As a result, people in New Jersey’s more densely packed areas — for example, cities like Newark, Camden, Jersey City or New Brunswick — have been subject to a stricter standard of justice than those in the suburbs. Over the course of the drug-free school zone policy, 96 percent of those arrested for drug-free school offenses in New Jersey were black or Latino.

The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and will need to vote on it once again to concur with the Senate version. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

This legislation promises fairness not only to New Jersey citizens relying on the criminal justice system, but to taxpayers. New Jersey’s prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded and many non-violent offenders are serving sentences much longer than needed. Judges will be able to decide the appropriate punishments, and New Jerseyans will know that everyone, everywhere across the state has a fairer shot at justice.

Changing this law has been a top priority for the ACLU-NJ over the past decade, in a broad coalition with organizations including the Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association, Latino Leadership Alliance, New Jersey Association on Correction, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley and Women Who Never Give Up. In addition, cities like Newark and Camden have passed resolutions supporting S1866.