Michigan must invest more in Department of Corrections reentry programs to help returning individuals as well as reduce recidivism and ultimately the overall prison population. Over the past 30 years, Michigan’s prison population has expanded dramatically, and the state is now spending more than $2 billion annually to lock up and monitor its prison and probation populations. While steps have been taken to safely reduce the prison population and cut state spending, much more can be done to limit the number of people incarcerated and ensure successful reentry once their time is served. Reprioritizing spending will require careful policy deliberation that accounts for economic and safety concerns. However, by investing more in reentry efforts, the end result will be more families remaining together and more funds available for other budget priorities, including education, mental health and infrastructure.
In 2015, Michigan spent more than $2 billion on corrections and public safety—representing a 735% increase in spending since 1983. Michigan currently spends more General Fund dollars on corrections than it does on higher education.
While the fiscal cost of the high level of incarceration is significant, the human costs are far greater. Incarceration and criminal records result in limited access to employment, credit and housing. Moreover, when people go to prison, they leave behind families and communities. Around the country, almost half of children have a parent with a criminal record. Children with incarcerated parents are more likely to have poor health and educational outcomes.
The impact of mass incarceration on the African-American community has been devastating, with African-Americans constituting half of Michigan’s prison population, while only making up about 15% of the state’s population. The disproportionate impact on this community is caused in part by discriminatory police and sentencing practices both historically and at present. Carefully considered reforms including diversity training and reducing jail detention through bail and fines and fees reform are crucial to reducing this disparity. These financial traps are keeping too many people incarcerated. Once people are in prison, resources must be focused on preparing for successful reentry into the community.
The Importance of Reentry Programs
Reentry programs are crucial to reducing the prison population. Approximately 95% of Michigan’s prison population will return to the community after serving a sentence. Once prisoners have served their sentences, it is imperative that they be given the tools needed to succeed back at home and in their communities. In 2014, probation and parole violators made up 44% of prison entries. Measures to reduce recommitment due to parole violations along with bolstering and enhancing reentry programming are two concrete ways to improve reentry outcomes. In addition to funding reentry efforts in the Corrections budget, the state can also help returning residents and their families by removing restrictions on social safety net programs related to an individual’s criminal record, such as limitations on food and cash assistance for drug offenders.
The 2017 State Budget
Prisoner Reentry Services: The governor proposed $6 million more for prisoner reentry services, with support from the House Appropriations Committee. The funds support programs both inside and outside prison facilities. These include vocational training for prisoners and efforts to connect them directly with potential employers, as well as Transition Action Planning programs that present concrete steps once people are released from prison into the community. The increase in prisoner reentry funding from $39 million for budget year 2016 to $45 million next year is intended primarily to cover inflationary costs from rebidding contracts related to reentry services, which have been in place for at least the last five years. Without greater state investments in reentry than currently proposed, it will be difficult to reduce recidivism substantially.
Goodwill “Flip the Script” Program: Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit developed the “Flip the Script” program to provide education, job training and mentoring to 16-29-year-olds in an effort to keep them out of prison. The governor proposed eliminating the program, but the House Appropriations Subcommittee maintains it at $1.5 million, a $500,000 reduction over current year spending. While controlling costs is important, underfunding reentry programs undercuts justice reinvestment efforts that place emphasis on ensuring the safety of communities once prisoners are released.