LANSING (AP) — The Michigan Senate overwhelmingly approved wide-ranging legislation Thursday that is aimed at keeping the 100,000 criminals who are under supervision in the state from breaking the law again, an initiative that backers said would make communities safer and save money.
Proposals include limiting the length of incarceration for offenders who violate their probation and creating a more intensive parole program — an approach that supporters said is smarter and cheaper than automatically returning offenders to prison when they misstep, which costs an average of $34,000 a year per inmate. Senators also voted to officially define what recidivism means and to require the Michigan Department of Corrections to house prisoners ages 18 to 22 together instead of with older inmates.
Another measure calls for the state to pay up to $7,200 a year to employers who hire people on probation or parole.
The 21-bill package , which is partially modeled on successful programs elsewhere, is similar to one that cleared the Republican-led chamber last year only to die during a stalemate over a more contentious parole bill that had won approval in the GOP-controlled House. This time, the Senate plan — or at least much of it — could be poised for enactment because criminal justice reforms remain a priority for House leaders and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
The lead sponsor, GOP Sen. John Proos of St. Joseph, said a key component in the Senate plan is defining recidivism so the state can “benchmark success or failure for the billions of dollars — nearly $5.6 billion — that we spend at all levels of criminal justice.”
“You’re going to put yourself in a better chance or a better opportunity to be able to put programming in place that helps to change the trajectory of crime in our communities,” he said.
Proos said 38,000 of Michigan’s 42,000 prisoners will eventually be released once their time is served.
“If they’re coming home, are we expecting success so that they don’t enter the revolving door of our criminal justice system?” he said.
Thursday’s votes were the first significant legislative action in the new term.
The Corrections Department generally supports the Senate measures but opposes the proposal to house 18- to -22-year-olds separately from the general population, said spokesman Chris Gautz.
“Our younger prisoners tend to be the most volatile. Putting them together in one prison has been done before in the state and has not worked out well,” he said. “The fear is that that could end up legislating into existence a very dangerous prison.”
Gautz also said putting younger inmates together would hurt their ability to get educational programming, including a GED certificate needed before their release. There are not enough classrooms to educate all prisoners at the same time, so spreading younger inmates across the system ensures they can receive training earlier, he said.
The legislation also would:
— Allow judges to shorten a probation term for good behavior.
— Require precise data on whether offenders on probation and parole are committing new crimes or committing technical violations such as failing to report for a visit with a probation or parole officer or abusing a substance.
— Force the Corrections Department to report the number of parole-eligible inmates who have not been released.
— Speed up the process if the governor asks the parole board to review a reprieve, commutation or pardon based in part on a prisoner’s medical condition.
Senators also voted to encourage Snyder to change the agency’s name to the Michigan Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Senate Bills 5-24 and 50: http://bit.ly/2kYF0cN
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