Thursday, November 20, 2008

Michigan must reduce excessive prison costs

Editor, (HP, 11/20/08)

Does it concern people that, if found guilty of embezzlement, Michiana village official Mary Jo Nallenweg may be sent to prison for 10 years at a cost to taxpayers of over $300,000? Why the eagerness to confine her in our overcrowded prisons when the loss so far has been estimated at less than $10,000? Does this make sense to you? Who would benefit from that? At the current expense of over $30,000 a year per prisoner, our prison system is bankrupting our state.

If she is found to be guilty, do we really want to subject this young woman to a system which cannot prevent the abuse and neglect of its inmates? Or would we rather have her apologize to her victims and make generous restitution, followed by years of community service to atone for her mistakes? The notion that prisoners are “paying their debt to society” overlooks the basic fact that it costs the rest of us more to lock them up than we spend on the education of children in Michigan. When restorative justice has been tried, it has been more effective in preventing future offenses, as well as having been a humane and financially sound method of correction.

The European Union scoffs at how our country wastes tax money on imprisoning more citizens per capita than any other civilized nation in the world. EU nations have agreed that it is neither necessary nor productive to imprison offenders who don’t pose a threat to society. In other nations, a prison sentence is considered to be a last resort, not the first option a prosecutor would announce even before a conviction. The time has come for taxpayers to let our prosecutors and legislators know that we want restitution for the victims of crime, not a huge bill for unnecessary incarceration. It’s time to give non-violent offenders opportunities to make up for their misdeeds, rather than to charge taxpayers with the enormous expense of locking them up for years.

Send a letter to Art Cotter, Berrien County prosecutor, to ask him to find a better way to spend our money – on crime prevention, restitution for the victims and on our children’s education. Let your voice be heard!

Joyce Gouwens St. Joseph