Michigan’s inmate population dropped last year for the second year in a row, as more offenders were paroled and others avoided prison through the use of tethers, jail time, treatment, or other community-based programs, Booth Newspapers reports. Late-2004 and historic trends indicate the population could rise as early as this spring, requiring more prison space, state Corrections Department officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
Lawmakers are faced with balancing public safety against a tight budget. Corrections costs $1.78 billion annually. Michigan’s inmate numbers dropped by 330 last year and 572 in 2003. Two of the state’s 45 prisons are mothballed. There were 48,577 inmates at the end of 2004. The state has a prison operating capacity of just over 49,000. A measure ordered by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in July — a mandatory return to prison for five years for parole violators caught with guns — has added 24 offenders to the prison system. Much of the reduction in prison population is due to an increase in the number of prisoners paroled, said corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. Community-corrections programs have helped, too. The department recently began using a tether for repeat drunken drivers that can detect whether an offender has been drinking.