What can be done about Michigan's overcrowded jails?

Oct 2, 2013

When the public hears that a prisoner has been sentenced to serve time in jail, most of us allow ourselves to think that the guilty party will do the time.

But what happens when the number of prisoners who are sentenced outstrips the capacity of that jail? Do you cram in more and more inmates? Relieve overcrowding through early release? Reduce bonds? And what are the repercussions of each of those approaches?

Daniel Manville is an Associate Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University. He joined us today to discuss the issue.

“Normally, soon after somebody is sentenced in the Michigan prison system, that person is transferred up to the Department of Corrections, and with the present overcrowding it has slowed down,” said Manville. “So they are not getting people or taking people in as quickly as they used to, so that creates a backlog in the jail system.”

Other problems are caused by mandatory minimum sentences, mandatory jail time for misdemeanors, and the bad economy.

And when a jail or prison is overcrowded, that means some people have to sleep and eat on the floor, programs like drug rehab and GED get cut, and guards have a more difficult time supervising everyone.

“One of the biggest problems I think is trying to control what’s going on within the jails,” said Manville. “Most counties have had their funding sources reduced by legislature significantly. And whenever that money is taken away from them, they either have to try to make up for it or they try to do the same that they did before with fewer resources. . . . They have to have the funding.”

The hope, according to Manville, is that as the economy improves, more money will be available and funding will increase, but that is something Legislature will have to decide.

-Michelle Nelson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Listen to the full interview above.