April 16, 2019, 11:37 am
|According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, the average sentence length for Michigan prisoners is 10.3 years. Two decades ago, the average sentence length was 7.1 years–that’s a 45% increase in average sentence length in just two decades! To be fair, some of that increase is due to fewer people coming to prison for “minor” crimes because they were diverted to alternatives. Nevertheless, Michigan remains one of the states with the longest average sentence length. Some of the causes for these lengthy sentences are mandatory minimum sentences and Michigan’s lack of good time or disciplinary credits to reduce a prisoner’s sentence if he/she shows good behavior. While Michigan’s sentencing guidelines were supposed to prevent sentence disparities, in practice they have also led to longer sentences. Court decisions several years ago have made Michigan’s sentencing guidelines “advisory,” but it is not yet clear if that means judges are sentencing people to shorter sentences or not. The statistics seem to indicate it does not. The criminal justice system is a mess, and it needs significant reform. Some reform is happening, and some legislators are courageous enough to push reforms, but I’m afraid that many legislators will find other crises more pressing. Michigan needs $2.5 billion to fix its crumbling roads, but it is unlikely that any of that will come from the $2+ billion annual prison budget. Short of significantly reducing the prison population, closing more prisons, and reducing staffing and salaries, the MDOC budget is about as tight as it can be. The truth is that decades of research has shown that longer prison sentences do not lead to reformed people or safer communities. Michigan’s nearly 70% recidivism rate after three years is a siren call to its citizens that the current system simply does not work. What other system would citizens pay more than $2 billion a year to consistently fail at such a high rate?I’m not naive to think that crime should not be punished. It should be. But lengthening sentences has not worked. It only leads to progressively broken offenders, fatherless (and, increasingly, motherless) families, and overstretched budgets, and it does nothing to heal or address the harms victims have suffered.Criminal justice and prison reform is not popular because citizenry believe they are being kept safe by harsh prison sentences. That lie has served its time, and it is time that people see they’ve been duped. Long prison sentences do not protect communities–they only leave communities more broken…and penniless. Statistics taken from Safe & Just Michigan, a criminal justice and prison reform advocacy organization.|
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