An online article reports that an average prisoner is spending more time behind bars in Michigan which only worsens the financial burden on taxpayers. While the national average is 2.9 years, an inmate in Michigan spends 4.3 years behind bars on the average, according to Pew Charitable Trust. The number is even greater for violent criminals at 7.6 years versus national average of 5 years. This is a worrisome trend for two main reasons. First of all, it is an unnecessary financial burden on states and the taxpayers. In addition, prison stints do little to reduce the probability of returning to life of crime, according to some experts (Campbell, 2013). I have chosen this article because Michigan has been hit hard by the financial crisis and has been faced with some of the highest unemployment figures in the nation. Given the current circumstances, it is unfortunate that the state is wasting money on keeping prisoners behind bar, a significant proportion of whom may be serving sentences for non-violent crimes such as drug offences. If this trend could be reversed, the freed-up resources could be invested in education and in providing job-related training to those looking for work.
The author seems to agree with the experts he interviewed for this article that much of this has been due to politics because it helps elected officials project tough image. One of the experts interviewed by the author for this article was Eric Lambert who is a professor of criminal justice at Wayne State University. Lambert drew attention to the fact that despite lengthy prison times, Michigan has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. The author also implies by pointing out to Pew’s report that Michigan should go the way of Illinois which has taken the opposite route and yet has succeeded in lowering the crime rate. Illinois reduced average prison time by about seven months to 1.7 years between 1990 and 2005 and saved almost $476 million in the process. The author also reminds us that many politicians are weary of tackling the issue anytime soon because the public also views severity of punishment as an effective means of deterring crime. The author also seems disappointed at the current trend of politicians going tough on criminals including those with non-violent offences but the author also realizes that without a change in public perceptions, it will be difficult to persuade politicians to change their course.
I agree with the author and the experts mentioned in the article that the current criminal justice system in Michigan is in a great need of reformation. But I also realize politicians often put their own interests in front of public interests, thus, one of the best solutions to reducing the financial burden on taxpayers may be to decriminalize drugs such as marijuana. The social costs marijuana imposes on the society are more similar to cigarettes than other harmful drugs such s heroin and marijuana users account for a significant proportion of nonviolent crimes in the nation. Not only this will lower the burden on Michigan’s criminal system but may also help the state create another valuable revenue stream in the form of tax receipts. In fact, some other states have already chosen this path including Vermont (Wing, 2013) and there is growing public support for decriminalization of marijuana. One another course of action that Michigan’s criminal justice system can pursue is to refer offenders to education and rehabilitation programs whenever possible except for the most violent crimes. This course of action may also be more effective in lowering the probability of return to life of crime than prison stints.
Campbell, K. (2013, April 26). Longer sentences fuel big budget for Michigan prisons. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.grbj.com/articles/76707-longer-sentences-fuel-big-budget-for-michigan-prisons
Wing, N. (2013, June 6). Vermont Marijuana Decriminalization Signed Into Law, Reduces Penalties For Possession Up To An Ounce. Retrieved June 13, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/vermont-marijuana-decriminalization_n_3397266.html