In fiscal year 2017, MDOC’s total spending from all revenue sources totaled just over $2 billion, with $1.95 billion coming from state support and about $5.5 million coming from federal revenue. The Michigan House Fiscal Agency estimated that the per-prisoner cost for just expenses directly associated with prisoner custody, care and programming is about $35,000 annually, but the actual cost varies substantially by prisoner security level.
Because prisoners enter and leave Michigan prisons every day, the size of the prison population varies day-to-day. This constant flux is driven by three factors: the number of people entering the prison system, the average length of their stay and the number of people who are released.
Prison intake comprises the number of new felons sentenced to prison, parole and probation violators who are sentenced to or returned to prison, prisoners who receive new, additional sentences and anyone apprehended after having escaped from prison.[a] In 2015, 47,480 people were convicted of a felony, and 21.4 percent of those people went to prison. These new prison sentences make up nearly half of the total prison intake.
The average length of a prisoner’s stay is another contributing factor to the size of the overall population. Michigan prisoners serve longer average sentences than prisoners in other states, about 4.3 years compared to 2.9 years nationally. This is thought to be due to a combination of state policies that mandate longer sentences by default, a truth-in-sentencing law requiring inmates to serve every day of their minimum sentence, and a parole board with broad discretion to deny inmates release.
The final major influence on population size is the rate at which prisoners are released. Only about 5,000 prisoners are serving parolable life sentences or life without parole, meaning that a significant majority of Michigan’s 38,650 prisoners will return to their communities after an average of about four years behind bars. Fewer than 10 percent of returning prisoners serve the full maximum prison sentence for their crime, meaning that the Michigan Parole Board’s decisions have a significant impact on the overall population size.
All male prisoners enter MDOC custody by way of the Egeler Reception Center in Jackson, where they are held for about a month while MDOC completes a number of administrative tasks, such as taking fingerprints, evaluating the prisoner’s health and education levels, and assigning him a security classification. Female prisoners are processed at Huron Valley Correctional Facility, the prison which houses women. The classification levels range from one to five, with five reserved for offenders who have been deemed the most serious risks.
There are other corrections facilities with specialized functions like the Egeler Reception Center and Huron Valley Correctional Facility. The Special Alternative Incarceration Facility provides work experience, boot-camp style exercise, substance abuse treatment and educational services aimed at helping rehabilitate low-level offenders. The Detroit Detention Center is run jointly by MDOC and the Detroit Police Department and detains adult men for up to 72 hours while they await arraignment in one of the two area district courts. The Detroit Reentry Center is run as a prison, but houses only parolees who either have yet to complete required programming, or who have committed parole violations but have not had their parole revoked.
The rest of the correctional facilities are prisons for adult male offenders. Most prisons house inmates that have different security classifications, but they segregate prisoners by security level into separate housing units and recreation areas. Each prison offers a blend of services to meet the needs of its specific population, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, education courses, libraries, religious services, workplace training or in-prison employment opportunities. The oldest facility is the Michigan Reformatory, which was built in the late 1870s. Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, built in 2001, is the newest.
Prisoners exit the system when the Michigan Parole Board grants them parole, when they have served their maximum sentence or when they are released to a mental health hospital or into the custody of a court. There are currently about 38,650 prisoners in MDOC custody, down from an all-time high of 51,000 in 2006. The current prison net operating capacity is just over 40,000.
MDOC offers in-prison education programs that provide academic, technical, workplace readiness and substance abuse training. Its goal is for prisoners “to become contributing, productive members of the prison community while incarcerated and contributing members of their communities upon release from prison.” The department offers vocational education and job placement services, GED certification, English language courses and vocational education, among others.
MDOC begins preparing prisoners for re-entry into society as soon as they arrive in prison, using the Offender Success Model. The model calls for each prisoner to be evaluated using an actuarial risk assessment tool that helps the department determine whether he is at risk for future criminal behavior and what he needs in order to reduce his odds of reoffending. MDOC uses the findings of this evaluation, information from presentencing reports, criminal histories, education level and any mental health or substance abuse needs to create an individualized case plan for each prisoner. The case plan determines what programming the department will provide prisoners. MDOC then ensures that each prisoner is enabled to complete the programming called for in his case plan prior to his earliest release date.
The Michigan Parole Board considers a prisoner’s compliance with this case plan as a factor in parole readiness. The model also specifies what factors should be taken into consideration when developing the terms and conditions of parole, such as criminal history, the availability of community programs and special stipulations for certain kinds of offenders. Finally, it calls for parolees to contribute to parole and post-parole plans that outline how they plan to become and remain self-sufficient.
Third parties also offer educational programming within Michigan prisons. Chance for Life is a nonprofit that offers voluntary job readiness, life skills and behavior-modification training at some facilities, for example. Ohio University, Delta College, Montcalm Community College, Kalamazoo Community College and Calvin College, among others, provide correspondence courses and in-prison classes. Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources provide opportunities for prisoners to gain work experience building cabinets or growing landscaping plants.
[a] The number of new court commitments is driven by crime rates, policing strategies, the number of felony crimes contained in or added to Michigan law, mandatory prison sentences, the availability of nonprison alternative sanctions and offenders’ eligibility for them. Parolees who are returned to prison for violating a term of their parole serve an average of 13.9 months before being released again. This behavior, known as a “technical violation,” includes noncriminal activity that violated a condition of the parolee’s release, conduct that could have been prosecuted as a crime but was not, or conduct that resulted in the parolee being convicted of a misdemeanor. Barbara R. Levine, “10,000 Fewer Michigan Prisoners: Strategies to Reach the Goal” (Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, 2015), https://perma.cc/PGN2-XTUP.