News Story

State Taxpayers Seeing Payoff From Smaller Prison Population

One prison closing now, and analyst reports another may follow soon

The Michigan Department of Corrections is slated to close another prison sometime during the middle of next year. The decision has been discussed for months, and it became part of the state budget the Legislature passed this week for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

This would be the third prison in Michigan to close since 2016. In September 2016, the state closed the Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley and three months ago, it closed the West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon.

The Department of Corrections hasn’t yet determined which prison it will close next, according to spokesman Chris Gautz.

The closures have occurred as Michigan’s prison population has been declining. Between January 2016 and January 2018, the prison population dropped from more than 42,000 to less than 40,000.

The new budget reflects $19.2 million in savings the Department of Corrections anticipates will follow the next prison closure.

And according to a departmental report, closing the Kingsley facility saved taxpayers a total of $22.9 million in 2017 and 2018, while closing the West Shoreline facility is projected to save $29 million in 2018 and 2019.

After the state’s prison population peaked at more than 51,000 in 2006 and 2007, it has trended down for the last decade to below 40,000 in January 2018. Previously, the number of prisoners had not fallen below 40,000 since before January 2000.

A Corrections Department document from February projects that the prison population could fall to around 37,000 by January 2022.

As the number of prisoners continues to decline, Gautz said the department identified more than 1,000 unused prison beds. The large number of vacancies will let the department consolidate prison locations by transferring inmates to other locations with available beds.

While the prison population continues to trend downward, the average minimum term of inmates has mostly been increasing since 2004. In 2004, the average minimum term was slightly under 3.5 years at 41.9 months. By 2017, it had increased to nearly 4.5 years or 53.2 months.

Kahryn Riley, who runs the criminal justice policy initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that if official projections of the prison population are correct, the state could close another facility in the next couple of years.

“If that happens, we’d be tied with Texas, a major pioneer in smart justice reforms, for the number of prisons shuttered due to a drop-off in the number of people incarcerated in our state,” Riley said.

Gautz said the department isn’t afraid of future prison closures.

“All of our programs are designed to assist prisoners in bettering themselves. As these programs become more successful, and our population declines, we will be able to close a prison,” he said. “This is good for taxpayers, and good for the public as we are helping to reduce crime by returning individuals to the community who have the ability to support themselves and their families and become taxpayers, rather than a tax burden.”

Riley also said the state’s crime rate is down and its re-offense rate is low as well.

“Michigan is much safer than it was 25 years ago,” she said.