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Michigan to prisoners: Get out, and stay out

April 7, 2010

Recently released numbers from the Pew Center on the States show that Kentucky and a number of states have seen decreases in their prison populations after a steady climb during the last three decades.

In this undated photo released by the California Department of Corrections, inmates sit in crowded conditions at California State Prison, Los Angeles. Nearly 30 percent of inmates are third-strike offenders under the state's stringent third-strike conviction law, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. (AP Photo/California Department of Corrections)

It wasn’t that long ago that Kentucky had the largest percentage increase in the nation, but since then the state has adopted new early release guidelines. The number of nonviolent felons released early from prison could rise under a plan included in this year’s budget proposals, if lawmakers are able to settle on a budget before the legislative session ends April 15.

One of the tactics credited with helping decrease prison populations, both immediately and over the long term is to have a more comprehensive system in place for felons as they re-enter society.

That’s a step taken in Michigan, as noted in an article today by reporter Mark Hornbeck with the Detroit News. That effort has helped the state close 10 prisons and reduce its prison population from 51,000 in 2007 to 45,000 today, according to the article.

Department of Corrections head Patricia Caruso talked about the steps the state has taken at a recent conference focused on the re-entry of felons into society.

From the Detroit News article –

The two-day conference at the Lansing Center is bringing together government, businesses, social services and faith-based groups that deal with integrating released felons back into society. The Corrections Department has only recently figured out it is part of the state’s job to partner with these groups to make prisoner re-entry successful, Caruso said. The department has stepped up a program intended to keep released felons from committing new crimes.

“If we are not focused on get out and stay out, what are we here for?” she asked.

Kentucky is beginning that kind of concerted effort to help reduce its prison population and recidivism rate through substance abuse treatment and the support of social service agencies once a felon is released. It’s the right path to head down, and I think it’s one that more states will be turning to over the long term after years of devotion to building more prisons and lengthening sentences.

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