Senator Brater’s statement is as follows:
I would like to echo the remarks of the good chair of the Corrections Subcommittee, that it has been, indeed, a very collegial experience working on this subcommittee, both across the aisle and across the rotunda. I greatly appreciate and respect the work of the good chair of the subcommittee, especially since he and I are probably as far apart as any two Senators could be on ideological measures. We have had an excellent working relationship, and I really appreciate the opportunity to exchange ideas and have some meetings of the minds.
I certainly agree with the good chair’s objectives of reducing the costs of this department, which are close to 20 percent of the General Fund. I think that we need to continue to look at various ways of reducing the costs in this department, including preventive care education and more money going into the mental health system early on to prevent criminalization of people with mental illness. We have seen—just to remind my colleagues for one last time—a huge process of transinstitutionalization that has occurred as we closed mental health facilities in the 1990s. A number of the people who were discharged from those hospitals did end up incarcerated, tragically, in our prison system and in our jails.
I really appreciate the support I have received from Senator Cropsey and Senator Kahn in moving some money into State Police for training law enforcement officers to identify people with mental illness who might be diverted back into the mental health system, rather than being arrested and criminalized. I think in the long run that will also save us money in this budget.
I do want to express a concern for my colleagues who will be returning to keep in eye on the reduced funding for mental health that is reflected in this budget. Recent study has shown that 25 percent of the people in Michigan prisoners are people with mental illness. Not all of them are currently being treated according to this study. We need to keep in eye on that. Also this policy of having a formulary for psychotropic medications is problematic since that is one area of prescribing drugs that is very complex, and it’s very hard to find the right drug. They don’t always fit into a formulary and also be effective. We need to keep an eye on that policy.
We are not always going to be able to save money through privatization, so I think that we need to be looking at structural ways of reducing the prison populations through sentencing guidelines reforms, looking at the truth in sentencing policies, and trying to examine whether we are really getting public policy benefits from having the length of sentences we have in the state of Michigan. We have many surrounding states that have shorter sentences, and we don’t have a commensurately lower crime rate to show here in the state for our longer sentences. I hope that in the future that the Legislature will keep examining this issue and trying to address it.
Again, I want to thank Senator Cropsey and all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and rotunda for the opportunity to work on this budget, and I do urge a “yes” vote on it today.
Senator Cropsey’s statement is as follows:
This budget meets the target. It assumes that prisoner good-time bills will not pass and bumps up the prison population from the Governor’s recommendation, although below current year budget. The prison population is running over a thousand below current year, and that is reflected in the budget. No prisons are proposed to be closed under this budget. The County Jail Reimbursement Program is funded for a full year, with counties having the option of which of two standards to utilize for reimbursement
The Michigan Department of Corrections proposed $51 million in savings in food, transportation, health care services, and various smaller line items. These savings and more are in the budget, as well as additional savings we believe the department can accomplish through aggressive reconsideration and realignment of their current practices. These additional savings are spread across the incarceration facility line items.
The budget retains an additional $1.2 million for community corrections; an additional $5 million for residential treatment for substance abuse; a $1 million grant to the judiciary for pilot diversion programs, i.e., the drug courts; and two IDGs to the Legislature—$500,000 for the Auditor General, who has done a terrific job in the past of auditing the department and coming up with more savings, and $250,000 for the corrections ombudsman. Although not in the budget, we have an agreement to extend boot camps for an additional two years.
I have been frustrated throughout this entire process this year because the department has stonewalled me on my requests for information. Questions have gone unanswered for months, and dozens remain unanswered as of this morning, despite hollow promises from the Grandview Plaza. Data requests have gone unanswered or answered in meaningless and incomprehensible reports. However, the good news is my counterpart in the House, Representative Smith, proposed transparency in corrections spending, and that requirement is included in this budget.
Just as a note, parole absconders are at an all-time high. On a positive note, this is my last budget work with Representative Smith, and I want to say on the record that she is a lady of integrity who has a keen and passionate desire to see offenders become productive members of society. She understands the complex nature of incarceration and re-entry issues and has focused on real-life solutions. She has been a woman of her word who can be trusted, and while I can’t say I have enjoyed the negotiations, because she is one tough negotiator, I can say that I am very grateful that she has been on the other side of the table working with me. I don’t think we all realize how much we’re going to miss Representative Smith next year, and I wish her well in whatever her future endeavors may be.
Also a couple of members of this body, Senator Brater started as a lonely light in the wilderness on mental health issues and the need to address root issues if we’re going to address victimization, crime, and quality of life for our families and communities. I just want to say thank you to Senator Brater for her persistence. I think we all have a better understanding of the need to think of people holistically due to her efforts.
Dr. Kahn, Senator Kahn, has been a consistent and persistent advocate for appropriate health care for prisoners, and has helped institute a multitude of best practices in the Department Of Corrections. I trust that he’ll be back in the Senate next year, and, believe you me, the department is going to need him here in the Senate giving further advice, especially on prisoner health care. I wish him well as he continues on next year.
Representative Proos will probably be gathering here in the Senate with those who are returning. He has been a faithful overseer of the public safety and a strong voice for the needs of our local communities as they provide the vast bulk of services needed for community corrections, prison diversions, and supervised oversight of offenders. He has been a tenacious advocate for full-year funding for the County Jail Reimbursement Program and appropriate utilization of county jail facilities. He has been a vocal advocate for local stakeholders, and I wish him well in the Senate next year.
The other member on our conference committee, Representative Durhal, has been excellent on the conference committee representing the city of Detroit. For Michigan prisoner re-entry programs to succeed and our prisons to succeed, we need to have good representation from the city of Detroit and other urban areas. I just want to say thank you to him for meeting that need.
I also want to say thank you to the staff of the Senate Fiscal Agency. They have done yeoman’s work. They have read, re-read, and caught errors throughout this entire process. They have done their job in a very professional way. So thank you to Matt Grabowski, in particular, and Beth Clement also for the work that she has done; also John Lazet.