Keep working on corrections reform

Michigan lawmakers should continue the push toward building a corrections system that spares both lives and taxpayers. Though significant reforms were passed in the last legislative session, much more remains to be done.

This week, the Legislature has been hearing from prison reform advocates, including from what may seem an unlikely source — the uber wealthy conservative Koch Brothers, best known for funding Republican political candidates.

Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, testified before a legislative committee Tuesday, telling lawmakers there’s much more they can do to build a humane and effective system for punishing criminals. Charles and David Koch are pushing criminal justice reform nationwide, saying the current system is inequitable and falls too heavily on the poor. And it costs too much.

“It’s not soft on crime, tough on crime, or meaningless slogans,” Holden says. “We want to be smart on crime and really soft on taxpayers.

Michigan spends nearly $2 billion a year on the Corrections Department. Lawmakers, noting the falling prison population due to the decrease in violent crime, hope to trim that spending considerably.

That’s why Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, held this week’s hearings in search of alternatives to long and costly prison sentences that often do little to rehabilitate the convict but add strain on the state budget.

Kesto says reforms signed by Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year are a good start toward the goal, but must be built upon.

The key elements of the 18-bill package, which started in the Senate, make granting paroles simpler and target recidivism.

Kesto wants the House to add on to those reforms, particularly by passing the so-called presumptive parole measure that was left out of the Senate package.

That bill would end Michigan’s practice of keeping inmates locked up well beyond their minimum sentences.

Hanging onto well-behaved prisoners who are eligible for release is a reason Michigan has among the largest average prisoner length of stay in the country.

It’s a costly policy, and does little to curb recidivism.

Letting prisoners go when they have done their time and no longer present a threat to the community is not only humane, it also frees up money for other spending priorities, including programs that will help assure the paroled inmates don’t return to prison.

Releasing convicts on a fair timetable is the first step. Prisons must also do more to prepare inmates to survive in the outside world without returning to crime.

To that end, Republican lawmakers should reconsider plans to cut $40 million from the Corrections budget proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The governor wants to spend money on alternatives to prison, and on pilot programs to make sure inmates have work skills when they are released.

These measures are essential to cutting down on repeat offenders, and the Senate and governor should work together to keep them in place.

But the recognition by the Legislature that corrections reform is still a work in progress is encouraging. This is an important task that could redeem more lives and allow Michigan to spend its resources meeting its many pressing needs, including infrastructure and education.

— Detroit News

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