Gov. Snyder considers comprehensive prison sentence reform; Michigan inmates might serve less time

LANSING. Mich. (WXYZ) - Lawmakers and Governor Rick Snyder are considering making comprehensive prison sentencing reforms, which have not been changed in 15 years. The goal is to reduce the $2 billion State Corrections Department budget.

The national Pew Charitable Trusts found Michigan inmates serve 4.3 years in prison while, their counterparts around the nation serve an average of  2.9 years in prison.

Pew also found that Michigan's sentences or time served was 79 percent longer now than in the 90s. The longer sentences added $472 million to the Michigan annual prison cost, according to researchers.

The Michigan Law Commission is evaluating the situation to cut cost but some lawmakers say changing societal views added a spin on the issue.

"Society has changed its views on a number of criminal justice issues," said Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, "Being ‘tough on crime' above all other concerns simply hasn't created a safer society."

Some lawmakers do not see eye-to-eye with those asking for shorter sentences for crimes committed.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge "I'm willing to look at it," says Jones, a former sheriff who worked on corrections policies as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But in my experience, most of the inmates at Michigan prisons are pretty dangerous."

The Michigan's Law Review Commission says that the state has made progress in controlling prison costs. It lists the ways that provisions are changing.

• The number of offenders coming to prison is down, as is the recidivism rate. The number of inmates, which hit a peak of 51,554 in 2007, now is just over 43,000.

• The state has increased use of probation, paroles and electronic tethers to monitor lower-level offenders without putting them behind bars.

• Lawmakers have pushed the state Corrections Department to cut costs by contracting privately for services such as food preparation. Yet the annual corrections cost hovers stubbornly around $2 billion.

Other organizations want to make permanent changes to the current corrections system.

The head of Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending Barbara Levine says revising sentencing and parole policies to reflect the severity of each crime as well as the likelihood of repeat offenses the state could save money.

Researchers have weighed-in on how to spend the states funds better.

Chairman of Wayne State University's Criminal Justice Department Eric Lambert says, Michigan would be better served by putting more cops in key areas and using some money spent on holding prisoners in cells — at least $35,000 a year per inmate — on preparing inmates to transition into society when their time is served.

The current sentencing guidelines now are complicated says Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young Jr.

By not making the reforms Haveman says,  "I think we're treating the symptoms and not always treating the cause."

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