January 24, 2010 | William L. Kime, Lansing State Journal guest editorial
William L. Kime of Ionia is a former deputy director of the state Department of Corrections for research and planning and serves on the CAPPS Board of Directors.
There is a good deal of controversy over the proposal to restore “good time credits” to Michigan prison sentences. Some law enforcement folk maintain this is just a cost-cutting measure that endangers the public. They are surely right about the fiscal motivation, but get it wrong on the issue of public impact.
We spend so much money locking people up far longer than before that we have had to cut back on police officers and crime prevention programs. In other words we give priority to retaining people in prison for years over keeping them out of it in the first place or making sure those who commit crimes get caught.
But criminologists know that at the felony level certainty of punishment deters more than severity. The crook is not thinking, “I will only do four years if I’m caught instead of five.” He is only figuring he won’t get caught.
When we ballooned the corrections budget from under 3 percent of the general fund to more than 20 percent, cutting other programs to do it, we gave up certainty for severity.
How can I be so sure that shortening sentences really won’t lead to a crime wave? You need only look to our past.