Friday, January 28, 2011

Make Sense, Save Billions

The prison debate in Michigan has become far too strained; it's turned to mush. Try this: If a prisoner does everything he is asked to do - abides by all R&GC recommendations, and serves his minimum too - send him home. It is time to stop the madness, this inhuman (and costly) effort to keep people locked up forever. The State can no longer afford it. Time to make sense.

There are over 10,000 men and women in Michigan's prisons who are parole-eligible; that is, they have served their minimum sentences set down by the courts. Yet, these people remain in prison at a cost to the State of over $30,000 per prisoner, per year. At the same time, Michigan wrestles with a budget deficit approaching two billion dollars.

Today, the State seeks ways to trim that deficit by cutting prison costs. Current strategies include lowing the quality of food on the prison menu, reducing health care access, and cutting back on educational opportunities for prisoners. Besides being ineffective, these strategies are wrong. Trying to find ways to scale back on food, health care, and education for prisoners is simply seeking ways to further neglect a captive population. Nothing positive is accomplished. For the nickels and dimes saved today, millions more will be spent tomorrow when those same hungry, sick, and uneducated prisoners are inevitably released back into their communities.

Cut a quarter of the prison population (parole-eligible prisoners), and automatically cut a quarter of staff (salaries), food costs, medical costs, energy costs, etc. With that single action, Michigan's prison budget would be slashed from its current 1.6 billion to 1.2 - a savings to the State of four billion dollars over the next ten years.

In the interim, Michigan will be left with a healthy prison system - not this bloated leech that sucks up monies meant to educate our children, and care for our elderly and our poor. Send parole-eligible prisoners home; educate the prisoners that remain. When they, too, eventually go home, their chances of success - based upon these positive reinforcements - will increase.

If this remedy sounds simplistic, that is because the solution to this problem is more simply than the complex brain-twister the powers in Lansing pretend that it is.

The parole board, too, must end its illogical aversion to paroling "violent offenders." A violent offender's minimum sentence is equally as legitimate as the minimum sentences ascribed to all other prisoners. The manslaughter convict should have as much hope of going home after serving his minimum as does the offender serving a 3 to 10 for home invasion. Saying a man sentenced to 15 to life must serve life makes as much sense as saying a man sentenced to 10 to 30 must serve 30.

Truly looking for answers? Try common sense. You will save time, money, and lives.

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