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State incarceration rates may affect university funding

June 1, 2014

The consequence of increased incarceration isn’t just more people housed in the prisons, it means more public dollars are going there too, said Barbara Levine, associate director for research and policy at the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

Because large chunks of state funding for both corrections and higher education come from the same pot, the Michigan General Fund, Levine said an increase in funding for corrections often results in decreased funding for higher education.

“When you put $2 billion into corrections, it has got to come from somewhere, and one of those places it comes from is higher education,” Levine said.

According to figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation, in the 2011 fiscal year Michigan was one of eight states to allocate more funding to its prisons than its universities.

Exacerbating the funding issue is the lengthy duration that prisoners in Michigan stay incarcerated, Levine said.

According to the study published by the National Academy of Sciences, social change and rising crime rates in the 1960s and 1970s led to tougher policies which “significantly increased sentence lengths, required prison time for minor offenses and intensified punishment for drug crimes.”

As a result, although the U.S. represents 5 percent of the world’s population, it contains 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, according to the study.

Citing a 2012 Pew Research Center report, Levine said Michigan prisoners, on average, are behind bars 17 months longer than prisoners in 34 other states.

But it’s an issue that the Michigan Department of Corrections, or MDOC, has noticed and implemented programs to change, MDOC Spokesperson Russ Marlan said.

The MDOC established a prisoner re-entry program across the state in 2007, the year that the incarcerated population in Michigan hit an all-time high of 51,500, Marlan said.

By re-evaluating the risks of individual prisoners and what treatments they need, the program is able to focus resources, he said. The other portion of the program centers on providing job, housing and transportation assistance to those transitioning back into society.

As a result, the program has saved hundreds of millions of dollars, reduced re-incarceration rates and decreased Michigan’s population behind bars by 8,000, Marlan said.

“The old adage of being tough on crime didn’t really pay and lead to the intended outcomes,” he said. “Our primary mission is reducing our recidivism rate. While we have folks in prison, we get them the appropriate treatment and get them back into society in the safest way possible.”

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