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A Costly "Truth"

Years ago, Michigan got drunk on the crazy idea that building more prisons and crafting harsher sentencing guidelines would both force crime down and generate sorely needed revenue for the state. Now, decades later, we've got whole towns fighting to stay afloat as prisons shutter, and our penal system is struggling under the weight of costly initiatives such as the "Truth In Sentencing" policy, which requires every prisoner to serve the full minimum of his or her sentence.

But as Gov. Jennifer Granholm's call to eliminate the measure suggests, it seems we're finally trying to s0ber up...

To accomplish that, Granholm is asking lawmakers to end Michigan's Truth in Sentencing policy, which requires that every prisoner serve at least the minimum sentence. She would also re-establish good-behavior credits allowing inmates to serve part of their sentences on parole.

We endorse the proposal because Michigan's harsh prison sentences have produced a costly prison buildup that is unsustainable with current revenues and hasn't delivered a corresponding drop in crime.

Michigan's annual corrections budget is close to $2 billion and exceeds the amount the state spends each year on its 15 public universities. That's a reality that not only creates a negative image of our state but represents backward policy if we wish to prosper from the knowledge economy.

I'm all for fighting crime, but policies like this -- which do little more than keep mainly non-violent offenders locked in a system that invests relatively little in rehabilitation --  smack of the sort of useless tough-guy posturing that permeated '90s political rhetoric. Back then, when we could've enhanced schools and social programs, we cut services and built prisons and enacted policies like "Truth in Sentencing." It seems we're finally starting to come back to our senses -- but after paying a heavy price.

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  • 1

    I would think that there could also be a lot of cuts into the cost of running a penitentiary. Get rid of cable tv, take out some of the sporting activities and concentrate more on education instead of play time.

    I had a friend in the penal system and where he was the had 5 full basketball courts, volley ball, an exercise facility that rivaled powerhouse, cross country skiing during the winter too.

    All paid for by tax payers, when we who are free have to pay for such activities when we want to do theses very same things.

    A good look into some of the cost and what can be cut is sorely need.

    • 1.1

      You are misinformed, Robert. The Cable TV and many of the other "luxury" items you list are paid for, not by the taxpayers but by the prisoners, themselves. Also, giving prisoners nothing to do will result in more and more dangerous criminal activities (and I might add, activities that affect society outside of prisons as well as disrupting and endangering the prison population and staff).
      Where you are correct is in your point that there is much to cut in the costs of running prisons. Hacking at the programs and recreational activities of prisoners, willy-nilly, based upon some emotional, "they treat prisoners better than us" mentality is not the proper approach, though. There should be some serious studies to determine the proper approach to cutting costs and helping the prison population to imrpove. After all, most of these prisoners will be released some day...

  • 2

    We need to liberate the prisions of drug related non-violent offenders....

    • 2.1

      I agree. if you get busted with drugs and it is non-violent you should be sent to rehab not prison, Unless of course your a drug dealer, then off to the pokey you go. and make the penalty stronger too.

  • 3

    Our entire criminal justice system in our nation is a cluster at every level from law enforcement to our legislative branch...

    Our nation is simply incapable of creating systems that are fundamentally sound.

    What drives this culture of incompetence? What drives a nation that toils in decay and decadence? Is it a human condition? Is it racial,gender,class reasons?

    My , MY,MY do anything right in America?? Anything?

  • 4

    Really? "Back then, when we could've enhanced schools and social programs, we cut services and built prisons..."

    Do you mean social programs like all the enhancements from the Great Society area that failed miserably? The ones that made people more dependent on government than independent and self-sufficient?

    I'm not hyped up on the "emprison everyone" mentality, but I do not agree at all that the "investment" in social programs works. (Also, it's not an either-or situation.)

    Until we engender a culture where people feel that they are responsible for their own destiny, that government is not there to nurse them through life, social programs will continue to fail. We need to find the right ingredients to create programs that support people in crisis situations but also get them on the road to self-help. And those that choose not to help themselves, well...that's a different story.

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