State’s corrections cuts focused on limiting inmates’ time in prison

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By JACOB KANCLERZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – Despite years of cuts and reforms, Michigan’s corrections budget is bigger than other portions of the state budget, including higher education and safety net programs.
Although the state’s prison population of about 43,000 has fallen from an all-time high of 51,554 in 2007, the Michigan Department of Corrections and a coalition of interest groups continue to push reforms, particularly in how long people stay imprisoned.
The corrections department has closed 14 prisons and camps, bid out health care services, stripped away layers of administration and made other savings over the past decade, said John Cordell, a public information specialist with the Michigan Department of Corrections. It now costs just $2 a day to feed three meals to each prisoner.
The corrections budget hovers around $2 billion annually (Cordell said it’s $1.93 billion this year), and the prison population is partly why, said John Bebow, the executive director for the Center for Michigan, a think tank in Ann Arbor. Although Michigan’s prison population is down 15 percent from the 2007 peak, a 2011 report from the Council of State Government showed that Michigan has the highest imprisonment rate in the Midwest.
In 2008, the Center for Michigan organized a coalition of business, education and nonprofit interest groups concerned that corrections spending was crowding out other budget areas. Known as the Corrections Reform Coalition, it has proposed spending cuts and other reforms, some of which the corrections department has adopted, Bebow said.
The cost of government is why groups other than traditional prison organizations have become involved.
“Business groups are concerned about the rates of taxation and they see this fast-growing area of state government that’s very different from everything else,” Bebow said. “Nonprofit and education groups see the corrections budget growing at the expense of much more important investment priorities, from the social safety net to keeping the cost of college low.”
The coalition suggested releasing more prisoners after they serve their minimum sentence dates. According to a 2010 report by the coalition, 8,000 Michigan inmates are serving past their earliest release dates.
It costs the state $34,000 a year for each year a prisoner stays beyond their minimum sentence, Cordell said. The corrections department has made efforts to reduce the number of prisoners who stay beyond the minimums.
“If this person does everything they’re supposed to do and they’re ready to return to society at their earliest release date, as a corrections agency, you should be getting them back out t