By Gary Singer
I was released from the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC)
June 19, 2009 after two years, four months and three days of
incarceration. I pled guilty to a crime I did not commit, the detail
of which is irrelevant to the scope of this article. What is relevant
is that guilty or not, there are too many people in prison for too
long, with inadequate benefit to those paying for it.
During my time being transferred throughout six state prison
facilities, never did a day pass that I was not in some way struck
with awe at the incomprehensible waste inherent within Michigan
prisons. I have a bachelors degree in business management and have
successfully owned and operated four small businesses. I do not
exaggerate when I say I have never seen an entity perform so poorly
under cost/benefit analysis.
You will never be able to witness this waste. Unlike schools,
hospitals and other government agencies, you cannot observe how your
tax dollars are being spent. You cannot simply walk into a prison and
watch. Access to the public, press and other news organizations is
essentially non-existent. This has nothing to do with your safety and
prison security, as the MDOC would have you believe.
If there is one thing that has been successfully improved within
federal, state and local prisons in the past 15 years, it is safety.
Gone are the days of routine assault, rape and general violence. What
you are exposed to on television is aberrant and designed to
entertain. You are not permitted to witness prison operations
because, particularly in Michigan, you would be mortified to see
We spend upwards of $30,000 per year, per inmate in Michigan. Most
level 1 and 2 inmates (who make up 73% of the total state prison
population of 46,102) spend their time watching TV, lifting weights,
playing basketball and softball or reading novels, newspapers and
Aside from obtaining a GED for parole, there is no requirement that an
inmate work or go to school. If your image of prison is breaking rocks
in the hot sun, its time to get over that. Access to higher education
has been eliminated. Few are required to participate in the limited
number of rehabilitation programs available. It is as if we are
expecting those who are released to return to the exact behavior that
resulted in their imprisonment.
And so, they do. The conservative estimates of recidivism rates within
state prison systems in the U.S. are 50%. Most agree on numbers
ranging from 60-80%. Imagine half of our public school students
failing all of their classes. Imagine the fallout if half of all new
Fords didnt run. Imagine that half of those going into the hospital
failed to improve. Why do we tolerate such consistent, massive failure
within our prisons? Exactly what is the Department of Corrections
Some progress is being made. The good news is that over 5,000 inmates
have been released within the last year. All of them have served at
least their minimum sentences; none have been released early. The bad
news is that only amounted to a reduction of 2.8% of the corrections
budget, still a whopping $1.9 billion. By comparison, the budget for
higher education was cut by 8.4% to $1.5 billion, ensuring that
Michigan will remain one of four states that expends more on prisons
than on its colleges and universities.
There remain behind bars 9,000 prisoners who are eligible for release
under parole supervision. If a person was sentenced to 5 to 10 years
as I was, it is reasonable to assume that the intention of the
sentencing judge was s/he would be released after 5 years, assuming
good behavior while imprisoned. However, the parole board historically
has only released about half of those eligible annually. Budgetary
constraints have inched that up to about 60% last year; still far too
low if the criteria is in-prison behavior. This amounts to
re-sentencing. And, the parole board answers to no one there is no
oversight, no review, and no appeals process.
Our outdated Truth-In-Sentencing regulations contribute further.
Michigan is one of only two states that have not adopted the Federal
Standard for Truth-In-Sentencing, making inmates parole-eligible after
serving 85% of their sentence. That change alone would save $100
million a year.
Currently, inmates have no motivation to develop positive behavior, as
there are no good time credits. Those who promote the fantasy that
earlier release will contribute to more crime are simply not paying
attention to research. It is delusional to believe that a well-behaved
individual released six or eight months early will commit more crimes
than one who serves the full minimum sentence. It is not time in
prison that reduces crime; it is rehabilitation programming
A recent Detroit Regional Chamber summary recommended changes that
would save over $500 million per year. This is an ambitious, but
achievable goal. Please go to the following link for the full report:
http://www.detroitchamber.com. Enter prison reform in the search
window and click on item #4.
Now, more than ever before, it is time to make clear to our
legislators that education must become our priority. There is the
distinct possibility that if we rebuild our educational system, there
would be far less need for prisons in the first place.
The current situation is beyond wasteful. Its stupid.