FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Better Alternative to Extreme Sentencing in Michigan

by CHLOE COCKBURN and ALEX STAMM

Imagine you hear gunshots down the street and you call the police, but they take an hour to show up. Imagine the victim is your son, and you don’t call the ambulance because you know it isn’t coming, so you drive to the hospital yourself. These are real stories from Detroit, a city so broke it can’t afford to keep its street lamps lit.

Now imagine that your state is wasting over a billion dollars a year on a policy that’s not making your streets any safer. That’s actually happening in Michigan. Rather than spending that money on more police, more ambulances, or working street lights, the state spends its resources adding years of extra time to prison sentences — extra years that haven’t been shown to have any public safety benefit.

The irony of this waste is nowhere more bitter than in Detroit, once a gleaming jewel of industrial progress, now the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. There is no doubt this bankruptcy will cause Detroit’s municipal services to deteriorate even further.

Meanwhile, the state of Michigan readily coughs up about half of a billion dollars a year to house the thousands of prisoners from Wayne County – far more than from any other county in the state. This is allegedly the price of protecting public safety.

And yet, there is no indication that Michigan’s sentencing practices, which are wildly out of step with the rest of the country, have improved peoples’ lives. Michigan prisoners serve more time in prison per conviction than those in any other state: 4.3 years behind bars, almost 50% more than the national average of 2.9 years. Though some might argue that this is somehow due to high rates of violent crime, in fact Michigan’s sentences are among the nation’s longest for every type of crime. State prisoners end up serving by far the most time for violent crimes, and come in 2nd and 4th in the country when it comes to drug and property crimes, respectively.

These extra years of incarceration are not doing much to keep communities safe. We know from research that sentence severity has little or no effect on the level of crime in society. It also has little effect on the recidivism, or re-offense, rates of those who are incarcerated; a national study in 2002 found that recidivism rates for those who served 60 months in prison was nearly the same as it was for those serving only seven months. A review of 50 years of studies found a higher rate of recidivism associated with longer sentences. This shouldn’t be surprising—the longer the sentence, the more a prisoner is institutionalized, the less contact he or she has with social supports outside of prison, and the further removed he or she will be from employment when released.

In other words, Michigan’s massive over-investment in extreme sentencing for Wayne county citizens is doing little to preserve healthy, safe communities in Detroit, while it is doing a lot to strain financial resources and saddle people convicted of crimes with excess years of destructive incarceration.

The money wasted on unnecessarily long sentences could be better spent on things that Detroit’s neighborhoods desperately need. There are 42,900 people in Michigan state prisons. Each of them costs the state $2,343 each month. If state prisoners simply served the national average of 35 months instead of 52 months, the state would save $1.7 billion per year. Even a fraction of that money could make a world of difference if invested in the communities struggling to hold themselves together. That money could clean up damaged neighborhoods, promote business investment, and restore confidence in emergency services. If given the option, how would you spend it?

Chloe Cockburn is an advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU.

Alex Stamm is a paralegal at the ACLU. 

 

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail