On May 2, Barbara Levine, CAPPS associate director, and John Cooper, CAPPS policy director, testified before House of Representatives Law and Justice Committee, at the invitation of the chair, Rep. Kesto (R – District 39).

Cooper identified the policies that fueled Michigan’s prison growth over recent decades. We currently incarcerate about 41,000 individuals at a cost of nearly $2 billion dollars annually. He explained that the size of the prison population is determined by our policy choices, not crime rates. Crime rates have fallen steadily in recent decades.

Over the last four decades, sentencing and parole policies have been driven more by myths and fear than smart, evidence-based policies. Further, Cooper noted:

It is now apparent that prison-centered criminal justice policy has been a costly failure. We need a new, evidence-based, approach to public safety.

Levine then outlined the key sentencing and parole reforms recommended in CAPPS’s 2015 report, 10,000 Michigan prisoners: Strategies to reach the goal, that provide a road map for safely reducing the prison population, thus corrections spending.

Recommendations included parole reforms including clarifying the standard for parole denials and modifying the parole process for parolable lifers.  She emphasized that:

All of the options in our report are rooted in history, experience, and research. In fact, many are conservative in the truest sense – they would restore policies that were in effect in the past. 

You can find the report and recommendations here.

Levine stressed keeping low-risk prisoners behind bars once they have served their minimum sentence is a costly burden to taxpayers, without any public safety payoff.

Cooper responded to a legislator’s question by noting that a CAPPS poll found that the majority of Michigan voters support rehabilitation over punishment. A recent Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) national survey found that crime survivors also strongly support rehabilitation over prison by a two-to-one margin.

Kyle Kaminski, Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) legislative liaison, also gave testimony about the effectiveness of rehabilitation, saying:

The (MDOC) Vocational Village shows that if you provide an opportunity to incarcerated individuals you will see positive results. We need more opportunities for incarcerated individuals.

Kaminski described the MDOC Offender Success Model, an evidence-based approach to prepare individuals for a structured reentry process that supports safe and healthy communities.

He then outlined Michigan’s five-year prison population projections, noting that there will be a small decline over the next couple of years but the population will then plateau.

Kaminski advised the Committee to consider the impact the legislature has on the prison population. He said:

Policy makers can have an impact if they are serious about reform. There is only so much that the MDOC can do to reduce the population.

The hearing concluded with a lively question and answer period.