While most people will not admit it, criminal law is big business. There is a plan to place people in county jails and to send defendants to the Michigan Department of Corrections. That plan is not always punishment; it is also employment. In our criminal justice system, there is a lot of money that is spent on court costs, salaries for those on our bench, probation officers, prosecutors, and public defenders. The reality is that economics does play a role in people being incarcerated. With the advent of COVID-19, the cost to house inmates has risen dramatically. With so many different agendas going on in our criminal justice system, there is some debate over whether safety and economics are colliding.?
Before COVID-19, the average cost to house an inmate in the state of Michigan was $35,809 per year. In the federal prison system, the average price was $34,704.12 before the coronavirus. Since COVID-19, the cost of medicine has gone up dramatically. With the danger of judicial economy being compromised, we are left to wonder how our legal system will handle this situation. To dig deeper into this situation, we have spoken to several attorneys in our state.
Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus has found success with his research on both the state and federal levels and has examined this issue at length. McManus stated, “On its face, there does not appear to be a big difference between the costs of state and federal incarceration. However, if you look deeper into the analysis, we see that Michigan did away with good time credit. When legislation was passed, eliminating good time credit, the government assured longer prison states. This was a plan to create employment at the Michigan Department of Corrections and also provided a higher rate of taxes for the citizens of our state.”
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in both the state of Michigan and in the federal court system. Amadeo added insight when he said, “Truth in sentencing is the concept that took away good time credit. What Truth in Sentencing” did was spit in the face to rehabilitation. If you get 20 years in prison, you do 20 years. The real truth about truth in sentencing is that it took away the incentive for prisoners to improve themselves and cost the taxpayers more money. If there is little to no hope of earning the chance to join society early, how are we supposed to give an incentive for an inmate to fight for their second chance? The federal system is very different.”
Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo. She is known as one of the top family lawyers across the state of Michigan. Kelley did a thesis on this issue and said, “The federal system is different. Not only is there a smaller cost to the taxpayer, but there is a 15% reduction for good behavior. When we address a plea where there are concurrent state and federal charges, the defense lawyer should push for federal incarceration because of the reductions that are not available due to “Truth in Sentencing.”
Nancy Eaton-Gordon is a partner at Jackson Eaton-Gordon in Lenawee County, Michigan, and a rising star in the field of criminal defense. Eaton-Gordon stated, “When we look at a situation where a plea is in play, the most obvious answer is to examine the amount of time involved. However, with COVID-19 and the disparity between federal and state sentencing, the issue also becomes one of socioeconomics.”
When we look at the money involved in our criminal justice system, we do see that there is an incentive to incarcerate people. While some people need to be behind bars, others deserve a chance at rehabilitation. It is rare that somebody goes to the Michigan Department of Corrections and comes out a better person. It is the norm that the prison system has been and continues to be a big business in Michigan.