Here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to political discourse: If advocates resort to scare tactics and fear-mongering to bolster their case, you can bet the facts are not on their side.
Case in point involves bipartisan legislation that will save millions of taxpayer dollars in our state corrections budget, which has ballooned to enormous proportions in recent years. In fact, Michigan devotes the largest share of its general fund budget to prisons than any state in the nation.
House Bill 4138 simply requires parole for prisoners who have served their minimum sentences and stand a good chance to succeed upon release. If the prisoner gives any indication they pose a threat to public safety, parole will NOT be granted. The parole board has all the power they had before, but now they simply must offer a specific reason to deny parole.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some from trying to demonize the legislation. We’d like to set the record straight.
Myth #1: The legislation will allow dangerous felons to be paroled “automatically.”
Reality: This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The parole board will continue to have discretion to deny parole to any prisoner who is deemed a threat to public safety.
Our legislation says prisoners will be released after serving their minimum sentence unless there is a “substantial and compelling reason” not to release the inmate. The parole board can deny parole; they simply have to offer a reason.
Michigan is currently a national leader when it comes to the length of incarceration, according to the Pew Center. The center reports that Michigan’s average length of stay is nearly 17 months longer than prisoners nationally overall and 30 months longer for assault offenders.
According to the Council of State Governments (CSG), parole-eligible prisoners in Michigan serve 125 percent above their minimum sentence, which results in an additional annual cost of $300 million.
Notably, the CSG concluded this increased expenditure did not achieve corresponding public safety benefits, and additional time in prison did not improve recidivism outcomes.
Myth #2: The legislation won’t necessarily save the state money.
Reality: The nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency estimates our bill will reduce the state’s prison population by 3,200 inmates by 2020, ultimately saving Michigan taxpayers $82 million a year.
The Michigan Department of Corrections also estimates that the bill allows for a total savings of $82 million annually.
Those millions, in turn, could go toward educating our children, fixing our roads, or helping fund programs to reduce crime and poverty in Michigan.
Myth #3: The legislation will somehow put law enforcement and first responders in danger.
Reality: Under the bill, NO prisoner deemed a public threat will be paroled. Period.
In fact, the legislation doesn’t alter Michigan’s sentencing guidelines or its criteria for parole. It only requires the parole board to adhere to existing parole rules, or document its rationale for departing from them.
By freeing up millions of dollars in state revenue, we could provide more funding to actually reduce the recidivism rate, which would protect law enforcement and the public.
Although Michigan currently spends more on corrections than any other state, we still have four of the most dangerous cities in the nation. Several Michigan cities continue to experience alarmingly high crime rates – up to five times the national average. Obviously, our current system is not working.
The legislation is a common-sense reform to save taxpayer dollars without jeopardizing public safety.