ACLU of Michigan Releases Blueprint to Cut Prison Population by 23,000, Saving Taxpayers $1.8 billion

The ACLU of Michigan today released “Blueprint for Smart Justice: Michigan,” a new report that outlines how the state can cut its prison population by more than 23,ooo inmates by 2025 and  save taxpayers more than $1.8 billion over the next seven years.

Key changes that can reduce Michigan’s prison population and save taxpayers money include:

  • Creating programs for Michiganders with mental health needs
  • Reclassifying lower level felonies, such as property crimes and drug possession, as misdemeanors
  • Ending the prosecution of children in adult courts
  • Passing a comprehensive medical parole bill
  • Reforming the cash bail system
  • Reforming sentencing

The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.

“Michigan’s criminal justice policies – including mandatory minimum sentences – were supposed to get ‘tough on crime,’” said Heather Garretson, Smart Justice Campaign Coordinator. “Instead, we got tough on taxpayers and have crippled our state’s ability to deliver education, mental health services, and other programs that prevent crime in the first place.”

In 2012, a survey of 35 states found that Michigan had the longest average prison sentences.  According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, however, non-assaultive offenses – including property crimes and public order offenses – accounted for 42 percent of all new Michigan prison admissions in 2016.  

Other key findings from “Blueprint for Smart Justice: Michigan:”

  • Between 1985 and 2016, spending on corrections from Michigan’s general fund tripled, while spending on education decreased by 50 percent. 
  • In 2014, Black people were imprisoned at nearly seven times the rate of white people in Michigan; 54 percent of people in Michigan’s prisons in 2014 were Black.
  • The average minimum sentence for prisoners incarcerated in Michigan increased by 32 percent between 2006 and 2016.
  • A 2010 study from the University of Michigan found that an estimated 77 percent of the male general prison population had mental health symptoms – but no mental health services.

“Michigan has reduced its prison population and closed three prisons since 2016, so we are moving in the right direction,” said Garretson. “But we’re not moving fast enough. Locking people up for a long time doesn’t make our streets any safer. Instead, we’re busting the state budget, taking resources away from other priorities, and making it more difficult for offenders to return to their communities.”

The ACLU’s Smart Justice Blueprints, released this week in 24 states, will eventually cover all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These  first-ever analyses of how policy changes can drive a reduction in prison populations  are  a tool for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system.  They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the specifics of local laws and sentencing practices.

The Blueprint for Smart Justice: Michigan features an overview of the state’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long. It offers a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population and progress towards a 50 percent decarceration goal.

The reports for Michigan and other states are viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The interactive feature is viewable here.

The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The ACLU of Michigan and ACLU affiliates in all 50 states are working for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration.

For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice:





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