Questions About Michigan SB 0144 (MDOC Funding) with Input From Senator Proos

After reading the Senate version of the proposed Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) budget aka Michigan SB 0144  I had some questions:

  • Why did the bill cut the overall MDOC budget because per-prisoner costs were to high but also fund a larger than 4 Million dollar set-aside for a “future facility?”
  • Would the “Future Facility” be a lease on the privately owned (by GEO) Baldwin Facility (using tax-payer dollars to fund a corporate bailout)?
  • Wouldn’t MDOC likely apply any cuts to necessary and required programming (making parole less likely) instead of the personnel and facilities?
  • Wasn’t the high per-prisoner cost (despite reductions in overall prisoners in the MDOC) really a reflection of the overhang until reductions were sizable enough to close another facility (per-prisoner costs increase in partially filled facilities)?
  • Why did the bill contribute to the recently vetoed leased-bed program. The “leased-bed program” pays county jails to take MDOC prisoners. FYI Governor Snyder opposed the leased-bed program because jails do not provide the necessary offender success programming (which might be part if the reason they operate at decreased costs)?

So I put my questions out into the Twitterverse asking for answers from the Bills main sponsor Senator John Proos.

Answers From Senator Proos:

Let me take a second to thank Senator Proos for taking the time to respond to me, I am impressed that he and his staff care enough to be engaged with Michigan voters online. Transparency in budgeting is really critical, and I appreciate his openness.

In answering the question about the “Future Facility,” Senator Proos said, the “‘Future Facility’ is about setting aside $ for upgrading facilities that costs less to operate over time, several are 100+ yrs.”

In response to the question about the GEO facility, he correctly pointed out that the link I was sharing was to a story from last year’s budget battle (apologies) and that, “is not what the current budget discussions are about.”

Senator Proos next responded to my question about the MDOC programming by saying, “DOC has shrinking prison pop. We shouldn’t fund empty beds. Saved $ can be reinvested in programs that work or other priorities.”

Finally, he answered my question about the leased-bed program by saying, “Increased funding for jail reimbursement & leased beds because they’re cheaper than DOC beds & put people closer to home.

Before I discuss this further, please let me thank Senator Proos again, I hope he will view the rest of this discussion as intended in the spirit of open and polite discourse and creating public policy bridges to create a better MDOC.

My Thoughts:

On the “Future Facility” question:

I am not sure Senator Proos’ argument makes sense here, there are many MDOC facilities that have been recently retired and many facilities that are relatively new. In addition, if this was just an upkeep and maintenance program, why not just add money to the maintenance line of the budget?

And while I did quote a 2016 story, there have also been 2017 stories suggesting that the GEO facility is still a possible target for this money. I asked Senator Proos if the Baldwin (GEO) facility could still be the target of this money but have not heard back from him yet.

It seems troubling to me that when MDOC facilities are available we could be, in essence, bailing out a corporate entity with tax-payer dollars.

Also, shouldn’t there be a sunset provision? If I understand this correctly, the allocation here allows the State Government to lease the “Future Facility” in order to immediately close an additional MDOC facility (I have a hard time understanding how this reduces the per-bed cost but I could become convinced). Ultimately, the MDOC population will decline, under liberalized parole, to the point where there will be no more need for the “Future Facility,” but if there is no sunset provision (or set of benchmarks for when the lease will end) it could become a never-ending corporate bailout.

As for the leased-bed program:

I wonder if part of the reason for the lower costs of leased-beds because many jails pass on costs to prisoners by charging them per-day fees (for the privilege of being in jail)?

In addition, jail is usually much more brutal than prison (not that prison is a picnic) which is why prisoners are not supposed to be kept in jails “long-term.”

Services in jails from phone calls to commissary are inevitably much more expensive and create a massive financial burden on prisoner families. While this might be balanced out by being closer to home, many jails in Michigan are moving away from in-person visitation in favor of for-profit video visitation models (that pay counties off).

Also, there is a vast distance between the intention to move people closer to home and the MDOC moving prisoners closer to home. I wonder if there is language in the bill that ensures that ONLY prisoners who would be moving closer to home would be part of the leased-bed program, or if the program would guarantee transfers but leave the rest to MDOC discretion?

Finally, nothing that Senator Proos said really addresses Governor Snyder’s concern that County Jails do not provide the programming necessary for offender success. Most prison programming is prescribed for prisoners in order to get them ready for successful parole decisions. It seems very odd that Senator Proos, who was instrumental in the passage of a package of recent parole and probation reforms, is pushing for moving MDOC prisoners to County Jails.

I could certainly be wrong, and look forward to continued dialog with Senator Proos about the MDOC budget.

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