Editorial: A good start on prison reform
Gov. Rick Snyder has outlined an ambitious plan for the state’s criminal justice system with the idea of creating a stronger and safer Michigan. It’s a promising effort that could bring the state a more rational way of handling crime and punishment.
In his comprehensive special message on criminal justice, Snyder details various aspects of the criminal justice system, from protecting crime victims and community engagement by law enforcement to reducing prisoner recidivism and keeping juvenile offenders at home.
Snyder, in an interview with The Detroit News, said some of his efforts may become legislative proposals in the next couple of weeks, although he declined to go into detail.
■Sentencing reform: Snyder referred to a report commissioned by the Legislature and his office that concluded “Michigan can improve its sentencing guidelines to achieve more consistency and predictability in sentencing outcomes, stabilize and lower costs for the state and counties and direct resources to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.” The governor said some of the recommendations are already in place, but the Legislature needs to act on some other measures.
■More community engagement: One priority in Snyder’s plan is to increase community engagement with law enforcement to prevent or at least minimize the civil clashes between police and residents that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere. The governor has high hopes to enhance two existing community programs: The Community Action United Team in Our Neighborhoods (CAUTION), which was established by the Michigan State Police, and the Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT), which was formed in Southeast Michigan by leaders and members of various community groups. Utilized properly, these groups should have a positive and calming impact in tense police situations.
■Finding work after prison: Another area Snyder addresses is helping qualified inmates find work after they are released from prison. The new law allowing the issuing of certificates of employability is an excellent start. They tell prospective employers that a former inmate has worked responsibly in prison. In addition, Snyder suggests employers do some pre-release interviewing so the inmates know they have a job waiting for them. Prisons should serve to rehabilitate as well as punish.
■Recidivism: Recidivism in Michigan is a major problem although it has improved. Since 1998, it has dropped to 30 percent from 45 percent, but it could sink lower. As noted by Snyder, a 5 percent drop in the rate saves the state $30 million. For a safer community and a lower recidivism rate, it only makes sense to try to get qualified parolees good, full-time jobs.
■Personal protection orders: Snyder proposes changing the way personal protection orders are delivered. Currently, a friend or a relative may be given the task, but a much safer procedure would be for law enforcement officers to present the orders. This would be funded, rightfully, by fees collected from the PPO violators. Making sure restitution is collected and paid also is high on Snyder’s list.
■Jail time: Another Snyder goal is pretrial reform to reduce the number of days defendants spend in jail prior to trial and to keep low-risk persons convicted of a crime from going to jail, possibly through a treatment program. He also wants to keep as many juveniles as possible at home as opposed to placing them in a corrections facility.
Michigan has four of the top 10 most violent communities in the nation, despite a large prison population and long sentences. It’s wise to examine the way the state punishes in the interest of cost savings and more effective outcomes.