Michigan runs one of the nation’s largest and most costly prison systems, a $2 billion-a-year expense that crowds out other priorities at a rate many officials fear the state can no longer afford, reports the Detroit News. Politicians and law enforcers are hesitant to spend less by changing sentencing guidelines or paroling more prisoners. “Our efforts to grow Michigan’s economy and keep our state competitive are threatened by the rising costs in the Department of Corrections,” said Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “We spend more on prisons than we do on higher education, and that has got to change.”
Michigan’s system is the nation’s sixth-largest overall, and ranks 15th among the states in the cost per inmate. It could exceed capacity within two months, said Chief Deputy Corrections Director Dennis Schrantz, unless lawmakers approve stop-gap measures, such as doubling the number of inmates in the state boot camp program. The Corrections Department devours 20 cents of every tax dollar in the state’s general fund and employs nearly one in every three state workers, compared with 9 percent of the work force 25 years ago. Said Dan Gilmartin of the Michigan Municipal League: “I don’t know anybody who would say we don’t need more cops on the street, and if you dial 911 you don’t need to have it answered. Our priorities are really mixed up.” Michael Thompson, director of the Justice Center for the Council of State Governments, said: “The idea that significant growth in incarceration is going to significantly impact crime is not backed up by the evidence.” Maintaining one of the nation’s biggest prison systems affects other programs. Spending on higher education, for example, has been slashed by a quarter-billion dollars in this decade.