Michigan House Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105) is offering a partial solution to the state’s road funding crisis in the face of corporate lobby groups hammering lawmakers to make fixing the roads a top priority. MacMaster, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections told his good buddies at the Mackinac Center that the state can save around $100 million by looking to the private sector to benchmark the Michigan Department of Corrections bidding process. (Translation: the DOC must meet the lowest common denominator, whether it be reasonable or not.)
Last year, they saved over $72 million by cutting therapists and librarians…what’s next, food?
As it turns out…Michigan is considering two bids for privatizing prison food services. This, among other services, is frequently accomplished by bringing in a vendor who in turn “hires” the inmates to provide sub-standard cut-rate service. With the current food service cost per prisoner, per day at $4.38 — which includes all phases of food purchase, delivery, preparation and clean-up — how do they intend to trim “savings” from that meager sum without serving debtors prison worm-infested gruel?
Once again, we find the false assumption that adding a for-profit motive to the equation will “presto” create magic money. We have yet to see an ounce of statistical ballast lending weight to that approach. As reported by Democracy Tree last year, Michigan lawmakers persist in clutching the privatization fallacy with the iron determination of some medieval torture device.
Michigan knows well the poverty→prison→poverty endless loop, and if the state really wishes to cut corrections costs it must invest resources to break the poverty/prison cycle. John Tierney, of The New York Times, reports that:
“Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.”
(Disclaimer: not all Michigan inmates are from poverty. There are the rare exceptions like James Joseph Minder, the “Shotgun Bandit” and former University of Michigan Journalism student who served over ten years in the Michigan penal system after admitting to over eight armed robberies. He went on to become the Chairman of a major corporation — Smith and Wesson, naturally…a perfect fit.)
In the meantime, Michigan lawmakers are finding creative new ways to incarcerate its poverty-stricken populace — hard-time for a violation of the bottle return deposit law. A person found guilty of cashing-in on 10,000 or more nonreturnable containers would serve up to five years in prison. While the cost of incarceration is about $35,000 a year, Rep. Kenneth Kurtz (R-58 ) insists the bill is needed. And yes, there exists technology to identify and reject nonreturnable bottles — but that solution must be too obvious.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project