On Feb. 2, the Michigan Senate unanimously passed a 21-bill package aimed at reducing recidivism — the tendency of convicted criminals to be reincarcerated — in order to cut long-term prison costs.
With an annual average cost of $34,500 per inmate, Michigan’s 42,000 prisoners incarcerated in state prisons, and 64,000 under probation, cost the Michigan Department of Corrections nearly $2 billion — Michigan’s single largest expenditure.
Senate Bill 50 proposes a county jail bed savings program that incentivizes county jails to house state prisoners who meet certain requirements. Eligible prisoners must be level one out of six level classifications, they cannot be sentenced for criminal sexual conduct, and they must be serving a fixed sentence.
The DOC will reimburse participating counties a negotiable amount — a minimum of $35 per day, per inmate. A level one prisoner costs $80 per day in a MDOC facility.
Hillsdale County Sheriff Timothy Parker said that Hillsdale County will not participate in the program since the jail fills most of its 67 beds a night, and because $35 per prisoner per day reimbursement is not enough to cover prisoner healthcare.
“Public safety is a money-sucking hog. Our department does not generate money — it keeps the public safe,” said Parker. “State facilities have deeper pockets to provide rehabilitation, prison industries, and education opportunities. We don’t even have televisions.”
First Judicial Circuit Judge Michael Smith said Hillsdale does not have the resources or room to provide the same services state institutions can.
“The $350 received for setting aside ten beds for one day wouldn’t even cover one prisoner’s medical services,” said Smith. “Our county struggles with our annual budget. We have no power to levy taxes — the state does.”
The state of Michigan’s criminal justice reform was untouched during the 2016 lame duck session, but will be sent to the House of Representatives, where it will be considered “a top priority,” according to Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt Charter Township.
Though this plan is under a new name, it is not a new idea.
The DOC ran a similar program from Jan. 2015 to Sept. 2016. At the program’s peak, 14 county jails participated. Though the program was terminated in October, it saved the state of Michigan $3.2 million per year.
This program intends to ease prison crowding and“to create a strict, stable environment to help reintegrate them into society,” according to bill sponsor Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart.
Department of Corrections Communications representative Holly Kramer said the DOC is against the program because most county jails have minimal facilities.
“Having prisoners potentially spend years where they don’t have access to programming, education, or their support network would be detrimental to their rehabilitation and could lead to a higher likelihood of re-offense,” Kramer said.