Michigan Republicans, in collusion with Senate Republicans, have created a Catch-22 situation with Gov. Grnaholm’s and the House Democrats’ attempt to reform government and cut state spending with the proposal to reform sentencing guidelines.
In June chief obstructionist Sen. Mike Bishop, the Senate Majority Leader, released a list of demands the governor had to meet in order to release the hostage, state government, which included cutting spending and reforming government. It now seems kind of ironic that Republicans and Republican Attorney General Mike Cox called a press conference yesterday to protest the plan that will save money by sending fewer criminals to prison or county jails, cutting some sentences and decriminalizing some victimless crimes.
The GOP and their supporters refuse to help find new revenue to balance the budget and refuse to cut spending and prefer to call grandstanding news conferences to make political points.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice found Michigan’s incarceration rates were the 2nd highest in the 12-state Midwest region, and our rate is the 11th highest in the nation, We spend more money on Michigan prisons, $1.9 million, than the $1.6 million we spend on our 13 public universities. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan said the state’s incarceration rate is 40 percent higher than those of otter states, due to longer sentences and lower parole rates. Michigan is spending millions to hold, feed and house thousands of low-risk, non-violent inmates instead of looking for inexpensive ways to ensure their success on the outside or other alternative forms of punishment.
Livingston County Sheriff Bob Bezotte, a member of the Livingston County Republican party’s executive committee, said Public safety is not state government leaders' priority, according to a story in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.
"The state is trying to fix its problem by dumping (them) on the county," Bezotte said. "As far as I'm concerned, the state government is shirking its responsibility. Public safety is not one of their priorities."
Gee, Bezotte is taking a shot at the governor. Big surprise there. It was just a few months ago that the Bezotte had to declare an overcrowding emergency at the county jail because it has been over capacity for 25 straight days, releasing prisoners who had not completed their sentences.
There was a new addition to the jail in 1996, and it operated at full capacity the very day it opened and stayed there. There was another $2 million addition in 1999 and another addition in 2001 that brought it up to the current 254-bed capacity by converting a day room to bed space. There is also talk of a new jail. In between these additions the county had to send prisoners to nearby jails at a huge cost to taxpayers. Why is Bezotte against saving tax money?
The Governor’s plan also calls for putting lower-level offenders behind bars for less time. For instance, criminals would have to steal $5,000 or more worth of property to be convicted of a felony — the current threshold is $1,000. They could get even more time behind bars, however, for crimes totaling $100,000 or more. Other offenses would have shorter maximum sentences. For example, first-, second- and third-degree fleeing and eluding would carry 10-, five- and two-year maximums, respectively, as opposed to the current 15, 10 and five years, respectively. Some drug offenders would face a maximum three-month jail term, not the potential for up to four years in prison.
Some of the laws suggested for repeal are supported by the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan. Those laws include compelling a woman to marry, which is a life offense; and cohabitation of divorced parties, a four-year felony; and dueling, a 10-year felony.
With local elected Republican elected officials track record on marriage you would think they would support repealing those laws.
The simple fact is we can save more money with alternative sentencing options, such as house arrest with monitoring sensors for non-violent criminals and actually rehabilitating law-breakers instead of housing, feeding and treating those prisoners. More money would be saved by treating people’s substance addictions instead of throwing them in jails and prisons. The money saved could help put some of the 1,600 police officers cut since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that were laid off because of the 15 straight years of tax cuts that cut revenue to local governments back on the streets.
Rep. Paul Condino, D-Southfield, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said his committee on Wednesday will take up legislation to reconstitute a state sentencing guidelines commission, which currently is inactive but used to review sentencing rules every two years. The commission would put any proposed sentencing changes in the hands of criminal justice experts rather than politicians, he said, according to an AP report.
Maybe Cox and Bezotte should take a look at the legislation in the House before commenting on it, but this is not about law enforcement it’s about politics.