Michigan Criminal Justice Reform: Too Much, Too Soon?

Recidivism Is Worse Than We Have Been Told

Michigan has been at the forefront of ‘criminal justice reform’, which is newspeak for prison population reduction. In just a few years, Michigan has driven the MDoC prison population down 18%.  Democrats love criminal justice reform because it gets one of their major constituencies back on the streets, and voting. Republicans love criminal justice reform because it cuts prison spending, which has become a bottomless pit with all the various mandates. Both of these views are decidedly near term.
The question for non criminal Michigan residents is longer term: will crime rates rise as more prisoners spend less time incarcerated and more time in your neighborhood?

A study just released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics undermines the case for criminal justice reforms intended to reduce prison populations. This study contradicts previous studies which showed much lower rates of recidivism, probably because it better tracks released prisoners who have moved to other states and also looks at a longer time frame.

This BJS study followed 67,966 state prisoners released in 2005, in 30 states, over the 9 year period following their release. This was a statistically representative sample (16.8%) of the 404,638 prisoners released that year in those 30 states. The BJS study included 2,603 Michigan individuals; sampled from the 12,177 releases from MDoC custody during 2005.

The BJS’s latest study extends its previously released studies of this representative sample, all of which measured the recidivism for the same representative sample over shorter time spans. The only adjustment to the sample was removing ex prisoners who died during the study periods: 3,350 of the 404,638 prisoners released in 2005 died before 2015.

The nine highlights selected by the BJS study’s authors are worth close examination:

1. The 401,288 state prisoners released in 2005 had an estimated 1,994,000 arrests during the 9-year period, an average of 5 arrests per released prisoner. Sixty percent of these arrests occurred during years 4 through 9.
2. An estimated 68% of released prisoners were arrested within 3 years, 79% within 6 years, and 83% within 9 years.
3. Almost half (47%) of prisoners who did not have an arrest within 3 years of release were arrested during years 4 through 9.
4. More than three-quarters (77%) of released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within 9 years.
5. Forty-four percent of released prisoners were arrested during the first year following release, while 24% were arrested during year 9.
6. Eighty-two percent of prisoners arrested during the 9-year period were arrested within the first 3 years.
7. Five percent of prisoners were arrested during the first year after release and not arrested again during the 9 year follow-up period.
8. During each year and cumulatively in the 9-year follow-up period, released property offenders were more likely to be arrested than released violent offenders.
9. Eight percent of prisoners arrested during the first year after release were arrested outside the state that released them, compared to 14% of prisoners arrested during year 9.

Any fair interpretation of these study highlights finds that incarceration protects society from the depredations of criminals.

The advocates of criminal justice reform reject the BJS studies and interject that those reforms include many support measures to keep ex prisoners from reoffending. The most commonly cited rejection of the BJS studies looks at prisoners released from only half as many states, and uses a suspiciously different reoffense standard: return to prison, minus parole/probation violations. Many parole/probation violations are incurred for recidivist criminal activity. It is less difficult to violate an ex prisoner than to go through the whole legal process, so violation is is often the chosen option of the criminal justice system when dealing with recidivism.

The BJS study does precede Michigan’s 2017 criminal justice reforms, but the Department of Talent and Economic Development $ 7,200 grant program for employers who hire employees on probation or parole never made it out of the State House. So critical support is not going to be there as the prisons are emptied.

How many of the other support measures in Michigan’s 18 bill criminal justice reform package will work? Michigan bureaucrats have a well earned reputation for paying lip service to such measures and milking most such programs for bureaucratic aggrandizement, rather than their intended purpose.
The ultimate judgment will be future Michigan crime statistics. Not just murder and mayhem, but property crime statistics as well.

We will be watching.

You Betcha! (8)Nuh Uh.(0)

  4 comments for “Michigan Criminal Justice Reform: Too Much, Too Soon?

  1. Sue Schwartz
    May 26, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Thanks 10x25MM. So this study is nothing more than an in/out study. Nothing on what works to keep the doors from swinging. I've been a prisoner advocate for more than 30 years mostly on those wrongfully convicted or blatant violations of constitutional rights. Ironically, the more blatant the violations the more innocent the prisoner. I'm thinking this is the 5%. But even with these former prisoners, they risked being caught up in the swinging door. While not a quick fix, courts should be required in the sentencing orders that a GED be successfully completed before release is considered. Ability to read is BIG, lacking this is most likely the biggest contributor to recidivism. Throwing money at a problem without a solution is always bad government. Just like the study you cite, lots of figures no solutions.

    You Betcha! (3)Nuh Uh.(0)
    • Jason
      May 26, 2018 at 9:01 am

      83% recidivism is perhaps a figure with no solution, but it reminds us that bad people do bad things nearly habitually.

      Before we find solutions, we need to understand what the stakes are.

      Your suggestion (re: GED, literacy) is not without merit however.

      Good post. For some reason, I thought released and paroled felons couldn't vote in Michigan. I was mistaken.

      You Betcha! (4)Nuh Uh.(0)
      • Corinthian Scales
        May 30, 2018 at 1:38 pm

        Hmmm, just can't seem to put a finger on what might have an effect on the recidivism rate... oh, wait!

        “I’ve watched guys with real talent who can’t get a real job,” Sheppard said. “We deal with these guys all the time, who are great with skilled trades or really anything. They can’t work anything but nonskill jobs like Burger King or McDonald’s. … They end up recommitting a crime or feel [bad] about themselves and go back to their old habits.”

        MORE HERE: https://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/past-mistakes-haunt-builder-trying-to-find-work

        And there it is... a person screws up, goes to the slammer, pays "their debt to society™" and attempts to get their life back in order with being productive citizens/taxpayers only to discover it's all bullshit because the "debt to society™" - NEVER ends.

        You Betcha! (1)Nuh Uh.(0)
        • Jason
          May 30, 2018 at 6:12 pm

          Great reminder how (crony) government makes it worse.

          Right now all those guys hanging out on the island

          You Betcha! (0)Nuh Uh.(0)

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