The number of prisoners in costly high-security cells in Michigan’s prison system has plummeted over the last 20 years, while the number of prisoners kept in less expensive, low-security housing units has soared, the Detroit Free Press reports. The statistics lend credence to claims by corrections officers that the Michigan Department of Corrections is pushing prisoners’ security classifications down to lower and less-costly levels to save money. The union says that’s a dangerous practice that can lead to incidents such as a recent disturbance at the state’s Kinross Correctional Facility, where low-security Level 2 inmates smashed windows, sinks, and other prison property.
Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz denied the department is pushing down security classifications to save money and said some of the classification numbers are misleading because the way some prison beds are classified has changed. In 1995, there were 1,663 prisoners with the highest security rating — Level 5 — representing 4.3 percent of the. By last year, there were fewer than half as many Level 5 inmates, 812, or 1.8 percent of the prison population. The number of Level 1 and 2 prisoners has swelled from 27,779 in 1995, when they comprised 71.8 percent of the population, to 32,773 in 2015, when they comprised 76.5 percent. “This tells us that the classification system is being manipulated, due to budget pressures in the Department of Corrections,” said Tom Tylutki, president of the Michigan Corrections Officers union. The Corrections Department has been under pressure from Republican lawmakers and struggling, mostly without success, to bring its annual budget below $2 billion.