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Will the legislature's actions reduce recidivism?

Criminal justice reform in on the agenda of the Michigan Legislature again this year. A package of bills has been introduced and received unanimous support in the Senate. The bills are supposed to help save the state some of the $2 billion spent every year by the Department of Corrections, which is the single largest element of the state's budget.

There are more than 100,000 individuals under the jurisdiction of the DOC, and the immense cost of this system, has slowly made some type of criminal justice reform a priority within many states' legislatures. The difficulty for the lawmakers is that it is always easier to find support for increasing penalties when some high-profile crime occurs, while it is much more difficult to develop effective programs that reduce recidivism and return offenders back to society as productive citizens.

For instance, some of the proposed legislation would "Require the state Talent and Economic Development Department to create a program that provides grants to companies that hire people on probation or parole." Sounds great, but these programs need strong legislative support during the long-run, not just for the first year or two.

If the state suffers an economic downturn and the legislature decides it must cut programs, these types of programs are often the first to go, as inmates do not have much of an effective lobby and a politician can be labeled as "soft on criminals" during an election for supporting programs that "benefit" inmates.

That is part of the reason we have seen the growth of the "prison-industrial complex" and why many states have struggled to contain the immense growth of the Department of Corrections. In 2014, it was noted that the state now spends more on corrections than education.

The reality is that everyone in Michigan benefits if offenders are released with skills and receive assistance after they are released marketing those skills to employers. These programs are likely to be costly until Michigan can stop the treadmill of recidivism and reduced the numbers incarcerated.

The challenge will be whether the legislature can remain focused on that goal. This programs will be doomed to fail if support and funding evaporate like snow in the April sun.

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