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Governor Snyder Gets Smart on Crime

As Governor Snyder’s term as governor is beginning to sunset, Governor Snyder has finally discovered the need to get “smart on crime.” In an amazing policy paper for a Republican Governor, Governor Snyder proposed introducing a number of impressive reforms.

Early in office, the governor dismantled many of the reforms that former Governor Jennifer Granholm had put in place. Under her Director of the Department of Corrections (Patricia Caruso), Michigan was a nationwide leader in cutting its prison population. This movement was criticized by the prosecutors as getting soft on crime. When Governor Snyder entered office, he dismantled many of his predecessor’s reforms. He is now seeing the wisdom in this programs. One of the unfortunate aspects of term limits is that many politicians are often forced to relearn hard learned lessons. Getting tough on crime is superficially appealing, but it doesn’t work. It breaks state budgets, does not deter crime, and often increases violence. I am delighted that Governor Snyder is finally learning his lesson and can only hope that his successor does not have to repeat the process yet again.

Business Leader Supports "Getting Smart on Crime"

This happened earlier this year, but I just saw this testimony to the Michigan Legislature from a conservative business leader recognizing what our side has always known -- excessive incarceration is an exceptionally expensive waste of tax payer money. Even though prosecutors still don’t seem to get it, rehabilitation works and is cheaper than the locking them away and tossing away the key, I’m glad to see that the business community is starting to see it.

Thankfully, this does not seem to be the case in this election. While there are general references to “protecting Michigan families,” the economy rather than getting tough on crime seems to be the main theme of this election.

Hats Off to the NLG: Jailhouse Lawyers Manual 5.0

Even though US Courts say that someone with a high school education is capable of litigating a federal civil rights suit on their own with four to five hours of law library access per week, this has not been my experience. With my than twenty years of experience on prison law, I still find the law complex and many of the rules far more technical than those associated with ordinary civil litigation. For a person litigating from their prison cell, rising to the occasion is a Herculean Challenge. Yesterday, the National Lawyer’s Guild released its free version of its 5th Edition of the Jailhouse Lawyers manual in PDF format. Even though the book is written for a prisoner, many lawyers will also find the tool very helpful and you can’t beat the price!

Mich. Sup. Ct Rules that Jail Isn't Liable for Guard Rape of Inmate

Ms. Hamed was incarcerated in the Wayne County Jail on a child support violation. The booking officer said he would give her a better placement in exchange for sexual favors. Reversing twenty years of Michigan law to the contrary, the Michigan Supreme Court just ruled that employers are not responsible for harassment of their employees. Hamed v Wayne County, Supreme Court No. 139505. For more discussion on this case, take a look at Michigan Lawyer’s Weekly blog article on this ruling.

Michigan Court of Appeals Holds that a Discretionary Trust is Not Subject to SCFRA Reimbursement Suit

The State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act or SCFRA provides that the State Treasurer can bring suit to attach a prisoner’s assests to pay for the cost of incarceration.

In 1989, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a discretionary trust was exempt from attachment under the related Mental Health Reimbursement Act.
Miller v Dep’t of Mental Health, 432 Mich 426, 430; 442 NW2d 617 (1989). In State Treasurer v Isabelle Skaff Trust, Court of Appeals No. 291306, the Court of Appeals applied that ruling to SCFRA and held that a properly drafted discretionary trust could avoid SCFRA liability as well.

The decision should be consulted carefully in drafting any such trust, but the discretionary trust appears to be the best option out there for a family member to provide some support to a prisoner/relative without just gifting the money to the state. The State Treasurer will be challenging any such trust and they should be drafted by an expert.

Congratulations to must friend and colleague
Patrick Levine Rose over at for noticing this important, but unpublished ruling. Note because the ruling is not published, it is not binding on subsequent panels, but it appears the best strategy so far for preserving some assets for a prisoner’s community based reintegration.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Calls for Reducing Prison Populations

Yesterday, I posted on New York Governor Cuomo’s decision to downsize New York’s prison population for economic reasons. Pennsylvania’s Republic Auditor General called for precisely the same thing. The Pennsylvania Proposal would call for more community based programs and moving many non-violent offenders to these less expensive treatment based programs.

Feds May Increase Amount of Good Time Federal Prisoners Receive

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried an article about proposed budget cutting measures which President Obama will be considering. Amongst those proposals was a proposal to increase the amount of good time federal prisoners receive by roughly 47 to 54 days per year. While the increase is not huge, it may provide the political cover needed for the Michigan Legislature to reintroduce some form of good time in our system.

New York Governor Cuomo Says that Prisons Should Not be Used as a "Jobs Program" for Depressed Parts of the State.

New York (like Michigan) had a prison expansion based on its tough drug laws (now tempered). To house the individuals ensnared under these mandatory sentences, New York built many prisons in the Upstate region of New York. As mining was dwindling in this region, this served as a way to bring jobs to an economically depressed part of the State.

Like Michigan, New York has an out-of-control budget which it needs to reign in. Like Michigan, its Department of Corrections consumes the largest part of the State budget. New York has therefore decided to undertake a program similar to the Granholm administration and close prisons and focus on more community based treatment. New York Communities are fighting back arguing that people need to be incarcerated so that other people can have jobs. Governor Cuomo said:

"An incarceration program is not an employment program," Cuomo insisted. "If people need jobs, let's get people jobs. Don't put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don't put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That's not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session."

North Country Public Radio in New York has an excellent segment on this issue which was rebroadcast yesterday on Michigan Public Radio. The story could just as easily be about Michigan. Closing prisons takes courage. This is particularly true when Michigan Attorney General Schuette campaigned for office promising to reopen these prisons. Hopefully the “accountant” in Governor Snyder will agree with Governor Cuomo. Colleges and Universities, small business leaders, and many other organizations have all urged Governor Snyder to continue with this approach lobbying under the label of the “Corrections Reform Coalition.” An article in MLive suggests that Governor Snyder may continue with many of Governor Granholm’s reforms

The Great Recession Has Forced a New Exploration of Rehabilitation Instead of Retribution in Sentencing

An interesting debate as been growing in the media about whether refocusing the criminal justice system back towards rehabilitation is a smart budget cutting move. Michigan Department of Corrections Director Patricia Caruso has channeled significant resources into rechanneling corrections towards community based supervision and away from incarceration. Despite significant evidence that this works, vast improvements criminogenic predictive tests, and technology for enhanced supervision, prosecutors continue to argue that the only cure is long prison sentences. Earlier this month, the New York Times had a fascinating story about this. Meanwhile a report from Texas (of all states) notes a significant cost savings and reduction in reoffenses in cases utilizing a similar approach. To read the story, click here. Similarly, a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes similar trends in many states. For more information on these sentencing/parole predictors from an academic perspective, explore this article (pay access) by Professors Davis, Severy, Kraus, and Whitake

Michigan Legislature is Considering Limited Restoration of Good Time, Disciplinary Credits, or Something Similar

According to Sunday’s Lansing State Journal, the Legislature is considering a proposal by Rep. George Cushingberry (D-Detroit) to reinstitute the "good time" system for nonviolent offenders - a measure that would reduce prison expenditures. It is pending in the House Judiciary Subcommittee. Ten years ago, the Michigan Legislature eliminated Disciplinary Credits in the name of “Truth in Sentencing.” Like their prior attempt to eliminate good time in 1978, this resulted in massive prison building project and bank busting budget. Michigan’s version of Truth in Sentencing is far more unyielding than its federal counterpart. Federal prisoners can earn roughly fifty to sixty days off their sentence per year based on their behavior. As noted elsewhere on this blog, the United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari to resolve just how many days a federal inmate can receive, but the Federal Government also has “truth in sentencing” and their inmates clearly receive some time off their sentence.

Detroit Free Press article reported on November 18th that Governor Granholm stated that she would support some form of good time restoration. To read former Correction Director Robert Brown’s presentation on the cost of Michigan’s Truth in Sentencing Bill, click here. To read the Legislative Summary of the Bill, click here. Click here to visit the Friends of George Cushingberry Blog which contains some information on this bill.

Arizona Considering Privating Most of Its Prisons

Saturday’s New York Times reports that Arizona is considering privatizing nine of its ten prisons. While states have privatized some of its prisons, this will be the first time that a state considers such a wide spread attempt at privatization.

SCOTUS Strikes Down New York's Attempt to Bar Prisoner Civil Rights Suits

In the last of three plenary cases decided yesterday, the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to bar all damage lawsuits brought under federal civil rights law against prison officers or guards, allowing instead only a claim against the state itself in a special claims court.  Justice Stevens wrote for a 5-4 majority striking down a New York law as a violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. Haywood v. Drown, SCOTUS No. 07-10374.