“Reform” is an overused word in Lansing as state budget dollars shrink and one-time fixes are exhausted. In one area, corrections, business groups, education organizations and lawmakers of both parties have agreed that we must have smart reforms that help reduce our prison population without endangering the public.
The most viable corrections reform legislation is a package that includes Senate Bills 826 and 827. This bipartisan proposal, sponsored by Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-Dewitt, and endorsed by Rep. Alma Wheeler-Smith, D-Salem Township, Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, and Governor Jennifer Granholm, has been sitting in the Senate Judiciary Committee since September 2009. It’s time for this common sense proposal to move if we are to see any action on corrections reform in 2010.
If enacted, this legislation has the potential to save $35.3 million over four years and $16.7 million in 2014 while increasing public safety and providing certainty in prison sentencing. The legislation is supported by Democrats, Republicans, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Regional Chamber, Center for Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan, the Michigan Realtors Association, and many others.
These bills ensure inmates serve 100 percent of their minimum court-imposed sentence, but no more than 120 percent of that sentence if they are determined to have a low probability of re-offending. It requires those who violate parole for the first time on technical violations be returned to prison for no more than nine months. If the violation is criminal in nature, the incarceration will extend beyond the nine months.
It also requires offenders who are approaching their maximum sentence be released under close supervision at least nine months before the end of their sentence. Today, those who serve their maximum sentence walk into the community with no transition or supervision.
The legislation will provide certainty regarding sentencing to victims and to the Michigan Department of Corrections. Today, the whims of the parole board make it hard for the state to estimate its future budget.
Perhaps most importantly, this reform helps reduce costs of corrections, without releasing large numbers of inmates in the short term. If lawmakers do not address this proposal, Michigan will fail to realize significant cost savings in the years ahead.
The Michigan Legislature will not solve the state’s budget woes without addressing the reforms on the table in Lansing, and this legislation is just one piece of the overall effort.
Andy Johnston is director of legislative affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.