That’s Just Money Down the Drain

June 11, 2019, 11:37 am

The Michigan Department of Corrections consumes more than $2 billion of Michigan’s annual budget. That’s a lot of money to house around 40,000 prisoners per year. For years now the Michigan legislature has been trying to cut costs, closing prisons and crowding prisoners into other facilities, reducing the quality of food, cutting the number of clothing items it gives prisoners, and other “fat trimming” measures. Nevertheless, all of these cost-cutting measures have done little to trim the corrections budget. After decades of growing Michigan’s prison industrial complex, retirement benefits, and current employee salaries and benefits still strain the already thinned out budget. 

With such a strained budget, I’m mystified by the MDOC’s wasteful use of its funding. Two extraordinary examples of government waste that come immediately to mind are the department’s waste of utilities/environmental resources and its abuse of overtime. 

The MDOC continues to print tens of thousands of “itineraries” for prisoners every day, despite the massive waste of paper, toner, and wear and tear to copiers/printers. Its employees also routinely leave “security lights” on during the daytime, despite their uselessness in providing any security. Hundreds of light bulbs per unit with at least half a dozen units per facility amounts to a whole lot of wasted electricity. Additionally, in my unit alone five showers run non-stop because maintenance cannot be bothered to come around and fix them. Several of the showers have been running for at least six months, and at least one for a year. At an average of three gallons per minute per shower, that’s 21,600 gallons of wasted water *every day!* And that’s just one of six units at this facility. 

The MDOC also has a staffing crisis right now. It is severely short-staffed, requiring officers to frequently work overtime. It is common for many officers to work two or three overtime shifts per week. Since officers are paid overtime pay when they work more than their normal shifts, the department is shelling out millions of dollars in extra pay. Apparently the department is having difficulty hiring more officers right now because many people cannot stand to be away from their social media for eight hours at a time. While this dilemma boggles my mind, I have a recommended solution. Rather than hiring 750 more officers as announced several months ago, why not make some significant, retroactive changes to sentencing laws and significantly reduce the prison population?

Michigan has some significant budget problems to work through, not the least of which is finding $2.5 billion in road repair funds. We’re in a strong economy right now, but that does not mean we should be wastefully spending our resources when they could be better invested. Undoubtedly, these problems of waste only scratch the surface of the department’s true wasteful spending. It’s also very likely that the problems are far more complex than they appear on the surface. It’s easy for me to criticize from my own perspective, but I’m aware of how enormously difficult it is for the department’s top officials to get all of its staff to care about saving money. If only it were that simple. But there are not simple solutions to these problems. Solving the budget problem requires innovative thinking and creative solutions. However, sometimes we have to start where the problems are obvious, like fixing broken showers to save millions of gallons in wasted water.

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The opinions expressed within posts and comments are solely those of each author, and are not necessarily those of Women Against Registry. Women Against Registry reserves the right to edit or delete any content submitted.