By Barbara Levine, Executive Director, Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending
The recent Free Press series and its sensational headlines suggest that large numbers of released prisoners are roaming the streets assaulting and murdering citizens at will. Fortunately, the evidence does not support this extreme conclusion. Unfortunately, the disturbing image is what the public is likely to remember.
If that image is allowed to drive policymaking, needed corrections reforms and the opportunity to reduce prison spending will be set back by years. The MDOC is already responding to the number of high profile cases by slowing the grant of paroles and returning more parole violators to prison. Our prison population — and prison spending – are once again starting to rise, even though crime rates, including violent crimes, fell steadily from 2007-2011.
The Free Press reports that from Jan 2010-Aug 2012, 88 probationers and parolees were suspected, arrested or convicted in 95 murders. Three people have now been exonerated. The eight murder cases that were described in detail are gut-wrenching and some of the system failures are tragic. But individual events don’t provide a framework for responsible policymaking. They must be placed in a meaningful context and at least four points must be considered.