Clinton County Prosecutor Tony Spagnuolo recently wrote of his fears about giving people in prison a second chance. But fear and anger are not a good basis for making public policy. Looking at evidence and making decisions based on fact are a much better approach when determining how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Since the ’90s, when “truth in sentencing” became vogue, the length of time prisoners serve in the Michigan Department of Corrections has steadily increased without corresponding improvements in public safety. This has resulted in the longest sentences in the nation, with an incarcerated citizen spending an average of 10.8 years, according to MDOC. Yet Michigan still ranks among the highest for reported crimes such as rape (#2), aggravated assault (#14), violent assault (#15) and murder (#22). Still, we continue to spend over $2 billion every year for these results. If locking people up for longer and longer is supposed to reduce crime, it’s not working, and it costs too much to continue this failed approach to crime and punishment. Our criminal justice system can do better, as many other states around the country have already shown. No other state in the nation requires that 100% of a minimum sentence be served behind bars.
Spagnuolo’s idea that somehow the judge has a crystal ball and can determine at the time of sentence how long it will take for a person to learn from their mistakes is misguided. People change, and our Corrections Department is in the best position to observe and determine when someone has changed. Offering a positive incentive to those who are proving they have learned from their past decisions makes good sense. It is already a policy for those serving time in a Michigan county jail and for those under supervision on parole or probation in this state. So why doesn’t this same concept apply to someone in a Michigan state prison? It is exactly because of outdated thinking fear-based decision-making, that’s why!