Changes to state prison sentencing guidelines may be coming to Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan lawmakers are considering making the changes in an effort to reduce the State Department of Corrections budget.
Lawmakers developed sentencing guidelines to create consistency, fairness, and uniformity throughout the state; meaning, similar crimes receive the same sentences. However, those guidelines haven't been updated for 15 years.
"Times have changed, laws have changed, and I think it's appropriate on the recommendation of law review commission as well as the governor's office and the legislature that there be a review of the guidelines. So I think that the timing is right," said Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka.
A national study conducted in 2012 showed that Michigan time served or prison sentences were 79 percent longer than in 1990. It also showed that Michigan prisons have added at least $472 million in costs.
With the update, Michigan lawmakers hope to reduce the more than two billion dollar prison budget. But some Michigan prosecutors say they're concerned because with a reduced budget comes reduced sentences.
"I understand the need for budget constraints and budget concerns, but for me as a prosecutor, my concern is that we're going to reduce sentencing. And by reducing sentences, we're actually reducing sentences on violent criminal offenders, and that's going to be a greater harm to society in the long run," said Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Wiese.
Wiese says he believes reducing sentences would be a public safety issue, and making changes to the state guidelines to save dollars would be a huge disservice to the public.
According to Wiese, the three maximum security prisons in Michigan are overcrowded; two are in the U.P.
"When you look at our prison population today, a lot of people think that our prisons are full of individuals that committed either white-collar crimes or perhaps were involved with controlled substances or drugs. And that's just simply not the case. If you were to look at the data, most prisoners who are incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections are there because they've committed violent crimes," Wiese said.
The Associated Press reports Corrections Director Dan Heyns has endorsed the review of the guidelines, which would take about 18 months.