Getting a handle on Michigan’s corrections budget might be one of the most daunting challenges the governor and lawmakers face as they struggle to solve a structural budget deficit, reports the Daily Oakland (Mi.) Press. At $1.6 billion, the corrections budget accounts for 20 percent of the state’s general fund spending and employs one-third of the workers on the state’s payroll. Corrections Director Pat Caruso says the long-term solution is to reduce the number of prisoners who are returned to the system for probation or parole violations, or by committing new crimes. Short-term measures include closing some corrections centers while boosting spending on alternatives to prison.
Michigan has what the newspaper calls the largest prison system in the country with 42 correctional centers and 10 correctional camps. The prison population of about 50,000 has tripled since 1984. It costs an average of $30,000 a year for each prisoner. By comparison, state spending on public education is $6,700 per pupil. For fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1, Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to maintain the prison system’s 50,949 beds on a proposed $1.56 billion budget with a goal to reduce the number of beds by 2,000 over three years. She favors Revising sentencing guidelines; $3 million in additional community corrections grants to local governments for alternatives to incarceration, $4 million to expand the capacity of local jails; $5 million on parolee housing grants and employment, substance abuse, mental health and transportation services to improve parolee success rates; and $3 million for transitional housing for mentally ill offenders who are released.