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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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