Detroit News: MI Must Balance Efficacy, Costs in Prison Sentences


In an editorial, the Detroit News notes that Michigan could save millions of dollars in its nearly $2 billion corrections budget by shaving the prison terms of inmates. New research by the Pew Center on the States suggests that the somewhat shorter terms would not pose a major threat to public safety. Prison sentences nationwide lengthened by an average of nine months between 1990 and 2009, an increase of 36 percent, at an estimated cost of $10 billion.

In Michigan, the center reports, the average offender who was released in 2009 served 4.3 years in custody, an increase of 79 percent in the sentence such a prisoner would likely have received in 1990. Pew places Michigan’s estimated additional cost during this period for retaining prisoners at nearly $472 million. The News says the figures “do indicate that substantial savings could be achieved with somewhat shorter sentences.”Gov. Rick Snyder included a $250,000 appropriation in the new budget for yet another review by criminal justice experts on sentencing patterns and how they might be adding to Michigan’s prison costs. When that is complete, the paper said, “Lawmakers and the administration will have enough data to revise prison sentences to provide a better balance between protecting the public with prison terms for offenders and respecting their wallets by not making those sentences excessive.”

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