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

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.