Reopen the prisons


images-2Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for Michigan’s 2013 fiscal year contains nearly $50 million in public safety funding. It commits $15 million for more cops in high-crime areas like Detroit, Flint, Pontiac and Saginaw. But to what end?

Even if more cops arrested more criminals, Lansing’s prison reduction program guarantees offenders won’t end up behind bars. The governor and the legislature’s mindset over prison costs and budget savings will continue to subject scores of innocent, vulnerable citizens to an unabated criminal onslaught.

No question about it, lengthy incarceration is costly.

In 2009 Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm decreed that the state couldn’t afford the millions it cost to run each facility each year. She mothballed a number of prisons – some newly built – and released all “non-lethal” prisoners back to the streets. The Department of Corrections essentially drained the swamp down to those violent offenders we wouldn’t want to meet on a dark street – or during the day, for that matter.

Her celebrated Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, along with the courts agreeing to fewer prison sentences, helped shrink the inmate population by about 8,300 inmates since 2007. Since 2004 more than 20 prisons and minimum-security prison camps were taken out of circulation.

Allowing these facilities to sit empty can facetiously be described as “cruel and unusual punishment” to law-abiding citizens who are victimized by free-wheeling criminals who transit through the halls of justice.

“Rehabilitation” in the criminal justice system had devolved to holding a male prisoner until his testosterone level fell. What emerged under the guise of new innovation were “therapeutic” courts designed to divert young offenders from prison in order to work on the problems that led them to crime. Like Granholm’s re-entry programs, that a recent state audit found to be only “modestly” effective, “diversion” programs have also proven to be a general bust.

Most of the data collected, and the populations served, are too self-selected to comfortably show that the judicial system can consistently and effectively intervene to reduce recidivism. So the jury is still out on whether therapeutic court-sponsored programs are a suitable replacement for the family.

No one knows how to rehabilitate a budding criminal who has never seen a parent with a legitimate job, accomplished anything educationally, had any male supervision or guidance and never entertained a non-criminal future. The state is hopelessly wedded to a catch-and-release strategy that is compounded by the fact that one of the highest correlates for poverty/crime/drug use is growing up in a single-mom household – the form of family unit that is projected to become the dominant one within a decade. The engine for generating crime is growing – fast – and not just in “black” communities.

Overall crime, with the exception of homicides, has recorded statewide decreases. What policymakers don’t say is that these stats are down from exceedingly high levels. In urban areas like Detroit, many crimes don’t get reported and do not show up in federal or state uniform crime reports. Many criminals are not apprehended. So by any reasonable assessment, criminal activity remains at unacceptable levels. Streets are being surrendered to drug lords, rapists and murderers.

The debate in Lansing must turn to government and societal responsibilities, and how both should be dealing with crime and a justice system run amok. Prisons are a necessary evil. Society doesn’t expect them to rehabilitate. They are best at taking predators, particularly violent ones, out of circulation.

Until someone finds out how to intervene in the kind of criminal-breeding process commonly found in urban areas, Gov. Snyder’s highest crime-fighting priority ought to be giving criminals long-term prison reservations. Fundamentally, that means imposing tougher penalties, reopening prisons and making them places criminals want to avoid.

As financially repugnant as it may be to Lansing, the alternative to prisons is what you find in communities like Detroit – cities increasingly empty and frontier violent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *