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Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

About 20% of Michigan’s inmates suffer from some kind of mental health condition.

So if the state could divert people away from prison and into treatment, the prison population would drop.

That’s the thinking behind a “diversion” program being tested in a few areas of Michigan.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state House has approved bills meant to reduce prison costs in Michigan. But the sponsor of the legislation says the bills have been “gutted.”

State Representative Joe Haveman, R-Holland, says provisions were taken out that would have kept more people out of prison.

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All across Michigan, serious questions are being raised about the way our state deals with criminals.

The annual price tag for corrections in Michigan is around $2 billion a year. That’s more than is given for higher education. Michigan also keeps prisoners behind bars longer than the national average.

Is that money giving us a safer state? Are there other approaches?

Christopher Moraff, a writer for Next City, wrote an article titled: "Can Europe offer the U.S. a Model for Prison Reform?"

In his piece, Moraff looked mostly at prisons in Germany and the Netherlands.

In contrast to Europe’s rehabilitation mission, U.S. prisons focus much more on punishing convicted criminals through concepts such as minimum sentences and exclusion from communities.

“In neither of those countries, in Germany or the Netherlands, is the sole purpose of incarceration to protect society that’s written in law,” Moraff said.

Moraff said there is an effort to create a normalized set of circumstances to mimic community life as much as possible to re-socialize offenders for when they are released.

Many European prisoners go home on the weekends to visit their families, have the right to vote, wear their own clothes and make their own meals. Prisoners live in cells that resemble a college dorm. They are allowed to decorate their rooms, and guards knock before entering to instill a sense of privacy and humanity.

“If we make the goal re-socialization, dehumanization is not the right way to go about that,” Moraff said.

Moraff said that the guards who work at the correctional facilities have backgrounds in law, mental health, and counseling. They are trained to help provide a therapeutic environment for the people they oversee. They do not simply do head counts and prevent fights.

“There is a level of professionalism and a level of training that goes with this that is unlike anything we have in America,” Moraff said.

Moraff said there have been some efforts made in Pennsylvania and Colorado to retrain their staff in these methods.

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Michigan Radio

At 6:30 AM Tuesday, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will once again be a free man.  A judge sentenced  Kilpatrick to prison for a probation violation in May, 2010.  

Kwame Kilpatrick was ordered to pay one million dollars in restitution as part of his guilty plea to obstruction of justice charges while he was Detroit mayor.   The same judge later determined that Kilpatrick was hiding his assets to avoid paying the restitution.    He still owes more than 800 thousand dollars in restitution.