In 2008, each prisoner in Michigan cost taxpayers $28,000. With a state prison population of some 50,000, the annual tab was nearly $1.5 billion.
Michigan’s prison spending was the subject of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s March 25 Issues and Ideas Forum in Lansing. The forum, called “Beyond the Bars, Corrections Alternatives,” featured solutions offered by a noted lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Alvin Bronstein is Director Emeritus of the National Prison Project of the ACLU Foundation. He has argued prison-related cases in federal and appellate courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. Bronstein has also been a consultant to state and federal correctional facilities and written books and articles on corrections.
He says that the need to reform the nation’s prison system is urgent: “That’s an understatement. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population in this country. The land of the free and the home of the brave has 25 percent of the world’s prison population incarcerated right now, today.”
Bronstein endorses alternative sentencing, which he says is successful in Canada and elsewhere.
“So what I’m working on and what others are working on,” he says, “is to reduce that reliance on incarceration and try to utilize some of the truly successful alternatives to incarceration, in addition to shorter sentences. But alternatives from the get-go.”
Bronstein acknowledges his ideas about alternative sentencing are a tough sell. Still, he is hopeful that people are listening. “For the first time, the U.S. Sentencing Commission is looking at alternatives to incarceration. I testified there last July, and they specifically asked, ‘Tell us about what other countries are doing.’ ”
Bronstein told forum audience members that while not everyone agrees on alternative sentences for prisoners, there is a bottom line he feels people can agree on, saying, “I hope we can work together and resolve these problems of spending so much money on bars and bricks and mortar.”
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