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Prison policy activists see opportunity in “lame duck” to cut correction spending

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

Bills that seek to reduce prison spending in Michigan seem to have momentum going into the last weeks of the Legislature’s 2014 session.

Michigan spends about $2 billion every year on prisons. The legislation seeks to reduce the length of some prison stays and provide more supervision for people after they are released from prison.

The most widely supported proposal would create a commission to oversee sentencing guidelines and discuss other corrections policies.

“It creates a forum for exploring all this. And it’s something Michigan badly needs,” said Barbara Levine with the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

“Every additional month that somebody spends in prison multiplied by thousands of prisoners is millions of dollars. So the question becomes whether there’s a way to reduce that length of stay safely.”

Levine sees the Legislature’s “lame duck” session as the best window to get the measures passed.

“To have to start over again on any of it would be very difficult because it means, with term limits, you’ve got a lot of new legislators who have to be educated to these issues all over again,” she said.

The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, is term-limited at the end of this year. He is widely seen as the biggest advocate for prison reform in the Legislature.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette says he is “encouraged” by the talks. But he says he has “grave concerns” about reducing prison stays for some violent offenders.

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