ACLU Report Hails Michigan as Model for Reducing Prison Populations
Michigan’s successful efforts to reduce its statewide prison population by more than eight percent during the past two years while at the same time improving public safety provides a model for other states seeking smarter, more affordable criminal justice policies, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The report, “Michigan Breaks the Political Logjam: A New Model for Reducing Prison Populations,” details how Michigan’s initiatives come in the face of the ongoing and unprecedented growth of prison populations across the country, a reality that has contributed to crippling budget deficits for many states.
“Michigan has undertaken what may be the most effective changes to reduce incarceration of any of our nation’s states to date,” said Elizabeth Alexander, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project and author of the report. “Michigan provides a compelling example of how we can save money, reduce our prison populations and make our communities safer by abandoning our rush to incarcerate.”
According to the report, a key component of Michigan’s successful reduction of its statewide prisoner population has been the adoption of the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative (MPRI), which links internal prison system efforts aimed at preparing prisoners for re-entry into general society with locally developed re-entry support programs. Under the MPRI, prisoners’ risks of re-offending, needs and strengths are assessed upon entry into the Department of Corrections. Prison staff also utilize a computer software program to develop a transition accountability plan that serves to guide interventions and services that will facilitate the successful return of prisoners to the community while reducing the potential risk to public safety. About 60 days prior to a prisoner’s release date, a more specific re-entry plan focused on housing, employment and services for addiction and mental illness is developed.
The MPRI program, as well as the commitment of corrections officials to providing prisoners with focused re-entry preparation, has increased the percentage of prisoners who are paroled by their estimated date of release to more than 70 percent. The percentage of prisoners serving time past their estimated date of release has fallen in the past two years alone from 31 percent to 25 percent.
“Michigan’s experience is important because it demonstrates that common sense can in fact trump demagoguery and that smart-on-crime policies can actually triumph,” said Alexander.
According to the report, Michigan’s prison population last month had dropped to 47,634, down from a high of 51,554 in March 2007. That allowed Michigan, faced with a budget gap of $1.4 billion, to announce this year the shuttering of eight prison facilities, with a projected budget savings of $120 million. In the Michigan Department of Corrections budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, direct expenditures for operating prison facilities were reduced by approximately $192 million while the budget for various initiatives to further reduce the prison population was increased by about $59 million.
“Michigan’s example is just another sign that mass incarceration may finally be imploding, collapsing under its own weight as the global financial crisis renders it unsustainable,” said Alexander. “Michigan inspires hope as a concrete example of the change in incarceration policies that the United States so desperately needs.”
The report, however, criticizes Michigan’s failure to adequately provide necessary mental and medical health care to its prisoners.