Barb-2-2010By Barbara R. Levine, executive director, Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, guest column, Bridge Magazine, March 20, 2012

Legislators agree we should spend less on corrections, but are reluctant to make the fundamental choices – like reinstating the sentencing commission, reforming parole practices and restoring sentencing credits – that could safely reduce the prisoner population by thousands and reduce spending by the hundreds of millions. So, to contain its $2 billion budget, the Michigan Department of Corrections has taken steps that are not only hard on prisoners and their families, but are ultimately counterproductive.

Research shows that family contact reduces recidivism, yet family ties have a low priority when cost-cutting decisions are made. Visiting hours statewide have been reduced by more than 20 percent to lessen the need for visiting room staff. The Mound facility in Detroit was chosen for closing, although it meant more than 1,000 prisoners, the majority of them from the greater Detroit area, were dispersed to facilities all over the state, making it far more difficult for their families to see them.

In a similar vein, the rates for prisoner telephone calls were increased by roughly 80 percent to create a “special equipment fund.” For FY 2013, the MDOC plans to spend $19.7 million from phone surcharges on security equipment. For some unexplained reason, another $8.4 million from the surcharge will go to the vendor.

Read>> Cut prison costs the smart way