The criminal code overhaul that passed this session puts an emphasis on moving low level felons from state prisons to community programs, but a summer study committee will have to decide how to move resources to the local level so communities can implement the new law.
Representative Matt Pierce was a lead on the criminal code evaluation commission that produced the new sentencing structure. Among other things, it focuses on the rehabilitation of low-level offenders.
“Every state that has done this and there have been quite a few have saved hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pierce says.
A summer study committee will attempt to project how much money will be saved by keeping people in local communities in probation programs instead of in the state prison system. It will then consider how to invest money at the local level so there are enough resources to implement successful programs.
“I’m very confident if we get the program in place we’re going to have more than enough money saved by avoiding the $140 million cost of building a new prison and about $34 million a year to operate the prison once you build it,” Pierce says.
Monroe Circuit Court Judge Teresa Harper worries that the money will not follow the directive the state is issuing.
“Community corrections funding becomes essential to keeping the Department of Corrections population low and to keeping our community safe at the same time,” she says.
And when the committee looks at funding, Harper says they will have to account for places such as Monroe County where successful community programs are already in place. She does not want the state to withhold money because the county is already doing well.
The new criminal code standards take effect in 2014. That deadline is designed to give the general assembly time to address the funding questions and make any necessary revisions.