Prison and jail overcrowding is a national as well as a Michigan problem. Failure to do something about this problem threatens to destroy one of the most important elements of our criminal justice system, namely, that part which assures the majority of law-abiding citizens that those who commit crimes will be removed from society for the full period of time prescribed by law. Moreover, when and if such people are returned to society, citizens expect that they will have been sufficiently changed by their period of incarceration to no longer constitute a threat to others. That overcrowding virtually assures that our current prison and jail system cannot meet these ends is self-evident.

The foundation of the criminal justice system is the county jail. Perhaps for good reasons, judges have begun to place increasingly heavier weight on this foundation. The Michigan Sheriffs' Association notes that criminals who would have ordinarily been sentenced to prison are now being sentenced to local jails because, in the face of prison overcrowding, judges have increasingly come to exhibit greater confidence in the proposition that those sentenced to jails rather than prisons will be incarcerated for the time assigned. In addition, jails are seen to have the added advantage of keeping those sentenced under the oversight of the one who has traditionally been more directly responsible to local voters, namely, local sheriffs. Moreover, the fact that jails keep criminals closer to home and family is believed to improve the prospects of their return to useful life upon release. Thus, the character of Michigan's county jails has changed dramatically in the face of prison overcrowding. Demands unknown in the past are now being made upon facilities which were never intended to carry the burdens now assigned to them.

With change in the demands made upon local sheriffs and the jails they manage has come the need to expand old facilities and build totally new facilities. The problem is that in Michigan, as in the nation as a whole, the cost of building and operating jails has reached the point that local communities are either unwilling or unable to finance their expansion and/or construction. Moreover there is evidence which suggests that even those most directly responsible for the management of jails don't know how much they cost to build and operate.

One solution offered by the Michigan Sheriffs' Association – as bold in its implications as are proposals far "privatizing" jails – is to essentially turn over the oversight and control of Michigan's county jails to an independent State Jail Council along with the requirement that state funding be established to assist count/ jails in meeting standards set forth by the proposed Council. [31] While MSA suggests that such Council could be housed in a state agency such as the Department of Management and Budget, they make it dear that their preference would be to have it established through the Sheriffs' Association. Funds appropriated by the state would then be administered by this Council With the oversight of the MSA.

The MSA proposal for establishment of a state agency to take responsibility for the financing and operations oversight of local county jails is interesting for two reasons. First, it would do something local sheriffs have traditionally argued should never be done when proposals to move the oversight and operation of jails away from local sheriffs to a private entity have been offered: take local jails away from the direct democratic control of local citizens acting through their local sheriff. Second, despite its bold tone, it is really nothing more than one more step along the path of trying to solve old problems, no matter how extraordinary their scale may have become, by further application of old "within system' means. That is, in the face of growing demands made upon jails, the assumption is that the only solution to a problem – which can fairly be called a product of "government failure" – is to strengthen and expand the range of government financing and operational control over the local county jail system.

For Michigan's troubled county jails, there may be another way – an "out of system" way. Already a dozen states as well as certain Federal law enforcement branches have begun to address their jail and prison problems by moving to have the private sector manage government-owned jails and prisons under direct contract with government, or build, own , and manage jails under contract to units of government. This movement is called "Privatization." The next section of this report provides a brief history of this process, including current information on cost differences between private and public corrections facilities; acknowledges the objections which have been raised against this activity; and attempts to answer these objections.