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The Michigan Department of Corrections has been misnamed

Criminal justice systems are based on two premises. One, the police and prosecutors should arrest and try dangerous criminals to maintain public safety. Second, those incarcerated should be reformed, rehabilitated or corrected, to enable them to return to broader society and become productive citizens.

This is why many states have departments of "corrections." As inmate populations have grown and the criminal justice systems have become more and more expensive to operate, costs of training and educating inmates have become some of the first things to be cut, often seen as "luxuries" the state was providing to "criminals."

And that may be one reason why in Michigan's DOC, about one-third of the system's inmates wind up returning to the DOC's custody. Because the reality is that few individuals incarcerated are sentenced to life. This means most will eventually be returned to the non-prison world and will need jobs and an ability to support themselves outside.

This is not a luxury for the state to provide, but a necessity. The recent criminal justice system reform legislation signed into law by the governor may begin to reverse this bad habit, or at least, is a hopeful sign. 

The problem often is that the legislature has a short memory. They can create all the reforms they wish, but if they fail to adequately fund them for the long-term, they may not perform as intended. At that point, critics will claim such reforms don't work, unsurprisingly.

On a positive note, the legislation includes parole reform and redefines recidivism. Parole reform is long overdue. Sending someone back to prison for an administrative violation of parole merely perpetuates the current system, as these individuals wind up repeatedly incarcerated, further lessening their chances of succeeding.

Ironically, the legislature encouraged the DOC to become the "Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation." Worryingly, the spokesperson for the agency noted they would not change, as "We don't need to change our name to reflect what we are already doing."

Given their record, that remains to be seen.

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