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Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 7 p.m.

Michigan needs to re-evaluate prison system to cut costs

By Letters to the Editor

Through our educational experiences as Inside-Out Prison Exchange class students, we are convinced that Michigan taxpayers could be making $100 million in savings.

In 1998 two programs were eliminated in Michigan: Credit for Good Behavior and Disciplinary Credits. Truth in Sentencing replaced both. Good-Time/Disciplinary credits were used as an effective management tool providing incentives for offenders to maintain positive behavior, rehabilitate themselves through available programs, and prepare for successful re-entry into society.

Where’s your money going? Each year Michigan spends $8,000 per student but spends $36,000.00 per prisoner. Jeff Gerritt, with asked Daniel Heyns, director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, about Good-Time credits; while he didn’t endorse it, he agreed it “provided a tool for controlling jail conduct."

The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending currently estimates that if the 3,000 prisoners qualified to earn disciplinary credits were paroled when they first became eligible, the savings would be $100 million.

How do we fix the system? Reinstate good-time/disciplinary credits to reduce the amount spent annually without increasing the crime rate or risk to society. Establish an evidence-based probation system that provides a customized probation plan for each offender. This process would restore the offender to the community gradually, allowing them to contribute financially as well as pay for their monitoring cost.

Instead of spending $2 billion a year on Michigan’s Prison System we could invest $100 million of that in schools, roads and enhancing social programs that benefit all and have been proven to lower crime rates. Instead of “Tough on Crime, let’s be “Smart on Crime”. For more information please visit The Inside-Out Center or the university page for the program, or contact Dr. Lora Lempert by email at

Carolyn, D.J., Kristin, Mick and Samantha

We’re a group of 15 University of Michigan-Dearborn students and 15 incarcerated persons participating in The Inside Out Prison Exchange Program at Macomb Correctional. This nationally recognized educational exchange brings university students together with incarcerated persons. Inside Out is semi-anonymous and only first names are used by inside and outside students.


Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:50 a.m.

For those saying prisoners are hopeless leaches on society that can't be rehabilitated, and condemn them to be cast aside, the evidence shows a different picture. From statistics provided by the State of Michigan itself, the recidivism rate was 25% in 2010. That means only 25% had later offenses where their parole was revoked. Are we to believe that, for example, between the 4 years of an early release and the 7 years of a full sentence, a prisoner magically converted to a non-offending frame of mind? That seems unlikely.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

What part of "For those saying prisoners are hopeless leaches on society" don't you understand? Or is numbers you have a hard time with?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 7:34 a.m.

@ Jaime. What are you Trying to Say??? I should like to know . . .


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:40 a.m.

Hey kids. I agree with your concern about relatively minor drug offenses. Additionally, I personally know that about 20% of prisoners are Mentally Ill. Before Gov Engler we had a network of Mental Hospitals. It is cheaper not to employ Medical Doctors and, instead, have Corrections employees feed them "medications. That being said, for the other felons, I agree with this statement: "Hang a thief when he's young, and he'll no steal when he's auld." — Robert MacQueen, Lord Braxfield, Lord Justice of Scotland, 1776-1799. "Let them bring me prisoners, and I will find them law," was his legal theory. Lawyer Henry Cockburn vividly described Braxfield as "strong built and dark, with rough eyebrows, powerful eyes, threatening lips, and a low growling voice, he was like a formidable blacksmith. His accent and his dialect were exaggerated Scot's; his language, like his thoughts, short, strong, and conclusive." Braxfield also enjoyed a drink and the Jolly Judge pub off Edinburgh's High Street is ironically named in his memory.

Susan Ursus

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

Wow, people in prison think prisoners should get out of prison sooner? Gee whiz, who'da thunk it? The criminal justice system is imperfect (what human system isn't?), but there is clearly a subset of the population that preys on others without remorse, and those people need to be separated from society at large. These are people who are not swayed by punishment and have no interest in hard work. Rehabilitation is a joke to them, furloughs simply another opportunity to hurt other people. Let us not forget that there is a reason for Truth in Sentencing--the citizenry were sick of serial offenders being let loose over and over again. If you think prisons are expensive, try anarchy. Personally, I think they are a good investment.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:29 a.m.

The prison industrial complex is a real thing. If anyone thinks otherwise, I'd encourage you to simply do some reading on the funding of, and funds coming from, prisons in the United States. Specifically, CCA has already been courting Michigan. Look at the HB5174 bill. The corporatizing of Michigan prisons will certainly be a white horse proposed by the scheming state legislators trying to ram nefarious legislation through under the guise of efficiency and "freedom". Tangentially, the inevitable tide of marijuana legalization could have a substantial impact on the prison population - freeing up space and resources.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:28 a.m.

There is nothing in this article that is convincing. They lost me with this line: "How do we fix the system? Reinstate good-time/disciplinary credits to reduce the amount spent annually without increasing the crime rate or risk to society." Say what? Then this one: "Instead of spending $2 billion a year on Michigan's Prison System we could invest $100 million of that in schools, roads and enhancing social programs that benefit all and have been proven to lower crime rates." Roads? Spend on roads and that will lower the crime rates? Enhancing social programs. Golly that sounds peachy keen. The fact is and always has been that you cannot rehabilitate a person unless they want to be rehabilitated. This is pie in the sky hopeful thinking and lacking in facts. What type of offenders are we talking about here? Violent offenders? If you want people to link to your program, your introduction needs to be a lot more informative than this.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

Roads and accessible transportation help with finding and keeping jobs and attaining education. For rehabilitation to have a chance to work, prisoners need to know the options for them to learn a different way of living, or know that they have a chance to find/attend work. Education and transportation.

Mush Room

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

$2 billion on prisons, that's considerably more then we spend on higher education. We fear some of these people and their incapacitation is more than justified. However, we don't fear the vast majority of state prisoners; we are, however, pretty mad at them. Personally, I'm not $36,000 a year mad at them and would prefer much less costly alternatives that not only cost less but generally produce lower recidivism rates.

Susan Ursus

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:29 a.m.

Ugh, I'm so sick of people comparing the cost of incarceration to the cost of higher education. College requires discipline and the ability to delay gratification, two things most prisoners lack. Sending criminals to college is an exercise in futility.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

I love how the right wing puts all people in prison as being dangerous or rightfully convicted. There are cases every day of people wrongfully in prison, there are cases of people who are in prison for long sentences for marijuana and other non-violent drug charges. It is funny how these same people say THE INDIVIDUAL should be the decider in RTW, but then want a one size fits all plan for prison. Maybe the answer is to leave it to people who do it for a living instead of those who have no experience on making people productive members of society. For the record, I can promise you each and ever one of them have broken a law of some sort in their life, whether it be an illegal turn (which could have led to a persons death) or speeding, or possibly adding some non-existent charitable donations on their taxes or unknowingly breaking a law in Michigan. EVERy credible piece of research shows that a reward system works over a threat system. People do not get motivated at their jobs if their threatened with losing it, but usually perform best when rewarded with praise or extra benefits. There are many studies that also prove this, but the wrong headed still focus on punishment instead of solutions.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:07 a.m.

Macabre Sunset, read the statistics linked in response to your other comment. They directly contradict what you're saying. That aside, the legalization of marijuana will eventually make distribution legal as well. So, you have to look at numbers beyond simple possession.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:10 a.m.

Many people in jail for drugs plea-bargained when caught committing what we would think of as more serious crimes, such as home invasion and assault. These are people who need to be in jail. Find me one person in jail for more than a day or two for marijuana possession without any other charge. Every credible piece of research supports exactly what I think.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

As the story goes- Almost every person in prison will be released from prison. How they are treated will have consequences when they are released. If you treat them like animals then they will act like animals when they get out. For example, tv pacifies prisoners. If you take away their tv there will be more fights and injuries to prisoners and guards. You will need more guards. You will spend more on medical care. Costs will rise. "Make'em bust rocks" may be satisfying to say, but it may not produce the best outcomes.

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:03 a.m.

Macabre Sunset: Your demeaning label of "animals"aside, the key word is "dangerous". Based on recent Michigan prison statistics, non-assaultive crimes are almost twice that of assault-based crimes..

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:08 a.m.

If they don't fear going to prison, either in terms of how much fun they have behind bars or in terms of how much time is served for a felony, then the crime rate rises. We're all animals. We should demand protection from the most dangerous animals.

Steven Taylor

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:33 a.m.

Prison isn't supposed to be pleasant Nicholas. Plain and simple it's punishment, anything else and it's not good enough.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:25 a.m.

The way the republicans are going at it in lame duck session this week, I expect chain gangs of prisoners will be next. Prisons are big business.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:33 a.m.

Yep, by the time this week is over, Michigan's GOP who said they wanted to "protect public safety" employees like Police and Fire yet, somehow "forgot" about our state's Corrections Officers. Their plan, have all of Michigan's Prisons Operated by the Corrections Corporation of America with workers making $8.50 an hour and no benefits. The statement of the past of "hide your kids, hide your wife" will take a whole new meaning in the State of what incentive do low pay, no benefits privatized C/O's have to keep the PUBLIC protect from the CONVICTED criminals, within our state?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:10 a.m.

The solution is to operate prisons as prisons. Stop attempting to rehabilitate and punish those who break societies laws. We need guards, not corrections officers, we need convicts, not residents. Don't bring back "good time", that is what is expected in prison or in society. Punish those who break the rules by adding time. Good time should be the norm, not something to be rewarded. Make the convicts work at manual labor all day and by night they will not have the energy to create problems.

Steven Taylor

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

I nominate that those 15 offenders taking part in this discussion be housed with those non-offenders that offered this opinion peace. That they feed them and house them and find them gainful employment and then take responsibility for them when they re-offend by paying the offenders legal bills and any lawsuits that may arise from said recidivism.. It's a sad fact but prison is necessary, unless you'd prefer such people wandering the streets or living in your home or harming your loved ones.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

What's the cost to society of recidivism? When someone decides he doesn't want to play by the rules, the cost can be enormous. Only you can't budget life-changing harm to individuals. I think we save a lot of money by incarcerating criminals. In a free society, there will be people who exploit that freedom. So we have a higher incarceration rate than more indoctrinated societies.