This week, Rep. Steve Lindberg, D-Marquette, offered the following amendment (defeated on an unrecorded “voice vote”) to the Department of Corrections budget for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1:

When the department determines that the closure of a correctional facility is warranted … (it must) fully consider the potential economic impact (on the community, and) … make it a high priority to close a facility for which the local economic impact is minimized.

That’s a nice sentiment if you happen to live in such a community, but does it really contribute to the general welfare of Michigan residents for prisons to be regarded as a government “jobs” or “economic development” program?

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Clearly the answer is “no.”

The perverse incentives such an explicit policy would generate are not hard to imagine. However, that doesn’t stop the prison guards union from using its political muscle to prevent not just prison closures, but even sentencing reform proposals, and of course efforts to save money by seeking competitive bids on prison operations.

One lesson here is that by allowing government employee unions to engage in collective bargaining, the Legislature has created a permanent taxpayer-funded lobby for more and more expensive prisons.

On that last point — keeping prisons more expensive — several amendments were also offered recently to prohibit cost-saving privatization, and although these too were defeated on unrecorded “voice votes,” Democrats weren’t the only legislators opposing outsourcing.

According to MIRS News, Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, was one of several GOP members supporting a Democratic amendment to halt the closure of a state reformatory for juvenile delinquents, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, cited this as the reason he voted against the “omnibus” budget of which prison spending was just one part. The expectation is that these “juvies” would instead be housed in a privatized prison that former Gov. Jennifer Granholm promised the prison guards union she would shut down — a promise she kept in 2004.

Meanwhile, at least eight Republican House members are preventing passage of another bill specifically authorizing housing some prisoners in privatized prisons. The measure could save Michigan taxpayers more than $100 million as the unions and management of the nonprivatized prisons respond by cutting their own costs to remain competitive.

Related Articles:

Second Chances Start in Midland

A Glimmer of Hope for Job-Seeking Ex-Offenders

Wasting No Time on Criminal Justice Reform

Prison Guard Union Provides Lurid Claims for U-M Anti-Privatization Report

Mackinac Center Temporarily Removes Some State Employee Salaries from Database After Questioning Accuracy of State Data

Criminal Justice Reforms Signed Into Law, More Left to Do

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There aren’t many policies that get near unanimous support from economists, but free trade is one of them. Despite this, a central theme of the 2016 presidential campaign, heard from both political parties, was that free trade was somehow harmful to the United States and corrective action was needed. Mark Perry, an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint and scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, makes the case for why President Trump’s assessment of free trade is misguided.

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