“He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” said French author Victor Hugo.
Perhaps it’s not an apples and oranges comparison. Michigan spends $14 billion a year on schools but only $2 billion a year on prisons. Transportation spending is more comparable to corrections spending. So how about, “He who closes a prison, paves over a pothole?”
Lawmakers have taken up parole reforms in an effort to save money operating the state’s prison system.
The bill in the House shifts the presumption of eligibility so that parole boards would be required to prove that a prisoner must not be released. Parole boards would have to present compelling reasons to keep housing and feeding inmates beyond their earliest release dates.
Presumptive eligibility would not apply to every inmate. Those convicted of certain violent crimes, for instance, and any deemed to be at high risk of committing new crimes or who pose a risk to public safety would not be eligible. Presumptive eligibility for parole would not apply to currently incarcerated inmates, only those newly sentenced if the bill becomes law.
The Department of Corrections estimates the parole reform could save as much as $30 million a year before the end of this decade. More liberal parole rules, it says, could empty 1,300 prison beds and probably would mean closing some prisons.
Gov. Rick Snyder, in a May speech, urged the adoption of these reforms. The Council of State Governments also recommends them.
Law enforcement groups oppose the change. Convicted criminals should be scrutinized carefully before returning them to our neighborhoods, they argue.
Supporters include the Michigan Judges Association, ACLU of Michigan and apparently Michigan taxpayers.
An advocacy group called Citizens Alliance on Public Prison Spending, which says its mission is to cut prison spending in Michigan, commissioned a poll of 800 state voters. Those polled listed long terms for convicted criminals last on their list of state priorities. They list better roads, better jobs, better schools, cheaper health care and lower taxes all ahead of longer prison sentences.
Two thirds of them endorsed presumptive eligibility for parole.