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Report: sentencing reform could save millions

State capitol
Jake Neher

A recent report could serve as a blueprint for overhauling the state corrections system and saving taxpayers money. It aligns with Governor Rick Snyder’s plans to save money on prisons, not winning support from the Legislature is a different story.The study was prepared by the non-partisan Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending. Barbara Levine helped prepare the report, which calls for big changes to sentencing laws.

“Prison population is not driven by crime rates, which have been falling steadily for decades,” she says. “The size of the population results in deliberate choices. When we send more people to prison than we release, the population grows.”

Levine says changing sentencing laws could reduce Michigan’s inmate population by 10,000, result in closing several prisons, and cut corrections costs by $250 million a year.

“We know how to have a leaner, better-focused corrections system that actually works more effectively for those people who we have to keep in prison,” she says. “Saving $250 million would allow is to invest in the things that ultimately prevent crime and improve the quality of life for all our citizens.”

The CAPPS report also says Michigan could save money by finding alternatives to incarcerating elderly felons, who require expensive medical care later in life.

The plan won the endorsement of liberal and conservative groups and former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Joe Haveman, who spent the last year of his term trying to enact cost-saving corrections reforms.

"Michigan spends nearly $2 billion a year on locking people up,” he says. “This new report from CAPPS demonstrates clearly that we can save taxpayers money while keeping communities safe.”

An effort to overhaul sentencing laws stalled last year in the Legislature due largely to opposition from prosecutors and state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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