Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS) - July-August, 2015

The Debate About Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform

CAPPS’s June report, 10,000 fewer Michigan prisoners: Strategies to reach the goal, detailed about two-dozen recommendations for safely reducing the Michigan prison population. Each recommendation is supported by relevant data and policy information. The report has been hailed as a “roadmap for legislators” by both conservative and liberal commentators and has received widespread editorial and media coverage (see recent op eds below).

The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) also recently released Michigan Prisoners, Violent Crime and Public Safety: A Prosecutors Report. CAPPS’s analysis of the PAAM report and summary of the pending presumptive parole legislation (HB 4138 H-4) are available to download on our website

Understanding and joining in the public debate about presumptive parole and other criminal justice reforms will be especially important this fall. The analysis of the PAAM report and presumptive parole bill (HB 4138 H-4), are useful tools for reform advocates.

If you have questions or concerns, or would be willing to write an op ed or letter to the editor in support of reform legislation, please contact CAPPS at (517) 482-7753 or

Key Facts You Can Use to Discuss Criminal Justice Reforms

Michigan’s violent crime rate:
• There is no proven relationship between Michigan’s regrettably high violent crime rate and the length of time people convicted of those crimes serve in prison before being released.
• In Michigan, the violent crime rate declined steadily during the same period that our prison population dropped.
• There is no correlation between violent crime rates and incarceration rates. States that are similar in one dimension are often vastly different on another.

Michigan’s prison commitment rate:
• Michigan’s commitment rate for all convicted felons is lower than the national average because we send fewer drug and property offenders to prison.
• Yet Michigan’s incarceration rate for serious assaultive crimes is equal to or greater than the national average.
• Michigan’s use of community-based sanctions for property and drug offenses has nothing to do with when people who do go to prison should be released.

Michigan’s extremely long average prison length of stay:
• The PEW Center on the States found that, of 35 states for which it had data, Michigan had the longest average length of stay in 2009 for prisoners in general and for those convicted of assaultive offenses in particular.
• Increases in the length of time served resulted from both longer sentences imposed for the more serious offenses and fluctuations in parole grant rates.
• Research has found no relationship between length of stay and likelihood of reoffending.

Corrections costs:
• The increase in Michigan’s prisoner health costs is directly related to the increase in the number of older prisoners, which in turn, is primarily a product of life and very long indeterminate sentences imposed decades ago. The proportion of prisoners over age 55 increased from under five percent in 2003 to nearly 12 percent in 2013.

Public safety and parole:
• There is no evidence that continuing people’s incarceration beyond their earliest release dates enhances public safety.
• In 2009 and 2010, returns to prison with new sentences actually decreased, despite the release of more than 1,000 additional people service for homicide and sex offenses as a result of the Michigan parole board’s continuance review process.
• Homicide and sex offenders have extremely low rates of repeating their offenses – 0.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.


Below is a sample of recent media reports about the CAPPS report and presumptive parole legislation. The full text of the following op eds can be found at the CAPPS website or online at the URLs provided below.

William G. Milliken: Time to Reverse Michigan's Failed, Costly Imprisonment Policies guest opinion column, July 21, 2015

by William G. Milliken

Over the years, I have watched the size and cost of the Michigan prison population skyrocket, due to so-called "tough" policies that have not kept us safer and have cost our state billions.

We "threw away the key" and kept people locked up long beyond the time they were safe to release. In fact, the Pew Center on the States found that Michigan had the longest average prison length of stay of any of the 35 states they studied in 2009. After decades of experience and years of research, we now know that simply keeping people longer does not keep us safer.

As governor, I contributed to the problem by supporting extremely harsh mandatory minimum drug laws in the late 1970s. After it became apparent that the drug laws had not accomplished what either the legislature or I had intended, I then spent years working with organizations to support reforms that were signed into law by Gov. John Engler over a decade ago.

It is long past time for political leaders of both parties to reverse the remaining criminal justice policies that led to a huge increase in our prison population with no payoff in public safety — and that have cost taxpayers around $2 billion a year. Read more at:

Judy Putnam: Report Offers Ways to Slim Prison Ranks

Lansing State Journal Column, July 11, 2015

A blueprint on how to reduce the number of prisoners in Michigan has drawn the support of an unlikely pair of organizations.

On one side is Progress Michigan, a progressive policy group that hammers the governor for the state’s private prison food contract and is widely viewed as very liberal.

On the other side is the Mackinac Center, a free market think tank that promotes privatization of state services and is widely viewed as very conservative.

When those two groups agree on something, well ... it’s time to pause and consider why.
In this case, it’s a report by the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, on how to safely reduce the state’s $2 billion annual tab for corrections. The report tracks the dramatic rise in incarceration and spending from 1973 to today.

Read more at: 2015/07/11/putnamcorrections/29979375/fromglobal&sessionKey&autologin

by Laura Sager, Executive Director
Citizens Alliance on Prisons
and Public Spending

The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS) is a non-profit public policy organization. We are concerned about Michigan’s excessive use of punitive strategies rather than preventive ones to deal with crime and its impact on our quality of life. CAPPS advocates re-examining those policies and shifting our resources to services that prevent crime, rehabilitate offenders and address the needs of all our citizens in a cost-effective manner. For more information about CAPPS’s research, recommendations, or to get involved, please go to the CAPPS website at or email Laura Sager, executive director, at

If you are interested in helping with CAPPS’s public education and outreach efforts, please email Laura Sager at or at (517) 482-7753.