The Field Operations Administration is, broadly speaking, responsible for overseeing convicts who are not in the state’s prisons. It is responsible for community corrections, parole, the Special Alternative Incarceration program (“boot camp”), and probation and parole.

 

Program: Field operations

 

Appropriation:

Special Revenue Funds:

$8,200,900

GF/GP:

$113,752,800

 

Total:

$121,953,700 [18]

Program Description:

This appropriation funds field operations which includes the personnel costs of parole and probation agents, their clerical and administrative staff, office expenses, and the community work service crews.

Recommended Action:

Michigan’s probation and parole system should be modeled after the bail system, which uses private incentives and actors to achieve important public goals, at minimal cost to the taxpayer. The state should test the viability of such a plan with a pilot program in several small counties and in a portion of a larger county.

Bail agents, typically used in pre-trial situations, posts the bond of a defendant, in exchange for a percentage, often 10 percent of the bond. The bail agent has a powerful incentive, then, to make certain that the defendant actually shows up in court — if he does not, the agent loses not just 10 percent of the bond amount, but all of it. Bond agents may use a variety of methods, such as requiring a family member to co-sign the bond, to guarantee their success. Agents also use bounty hunters, typically other bondsmen or private investigators, who work on a part-time basis, to recover fugitives. Like the bondsman, a bounty hunter has a powerful incentive to succeed: no recovery, no pay.

With these financial incentives in place, the private bail system works well — and at no public cost — compared with public release programs. According to a Department of Justice study, only 15 percent of felony defendants on surety (monetary) bonds fail to appear, compared with 26 percent who are released on their own recognizance, and 42 percent for those released with unsecured bonds. Moreover, felony defendants released on surety bonds had a 9 percent re-arrest rate; those released on recognizance and unsecured bonds were re-arrested at rates of 15 and 16 percent, respectively.[19]

Under the current system of probation and parole, offenders are subjected to a number of requirements such as getting a job or enrolling in school, avoiding known felons, and reporting to probation and parole agents. Under a privatized probation and parole system, in exchange for release, the offender would have to post a bond, the amount for which would be set by the courts or a parole board. Those offenders who violate the terms of their probation or parole would lose this money, which could then be used in the criminal justice system.

Many offenders would require the help of a bondsman, who would then (most likely) enlist family members or friends as co-signers. Money would come from the offender’s assets (where they exist), his family and friends, wages earned either in prison or in the free labor market. As is the case with pre-trial bail, bondsmen would have a strong incentive to monitor the behavior of their charges, and might employ bounty hunters to pursue absconders.

This financial obligation would integrate offenders back into their communities, friends and families, who would have a greater stake in helping the offender stay straight. Tying the offender back into the community is a key element in reducing recidivism. This would, of course, benefit the broader civil society through reduced crime and reduced spending on criminal law enforcement.

As a recent study on “Broken Windows Probation” pointed out, “Achieving the full value of probation [and by extension, parole] … will require that a long-term commitment be made to investing in and restoring the community to the business of offender supervision.”[20] Broken Windows is a term used by the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based research institute, for not letting vandalism go unchecked. The idea is that if vandalism, for instance, goes unchecked, people will conclude that officials don’t care, and vandalism will increase. Making an offender’s status on probation or parole more subject to his or her family and friends, who have a financial stake in the offender’s integration into civil society, can be a key first step into a better system of social integration for ex-convicts.

The system would probably need to retain at least some use of government employees. Public policy in Michigan already calls for offenders to make at least partial payment for their custody and oversight; this principle could be applied to an arrangement of private-market bonds for probationers and parolees. But by shifting the risk of offender relapse to private bondsmen, offenders and their families, the taxpayers would save perhaps 90 percent of the current cost of probation and parole. A pilot program could aim for a 10 percent system-wide savings, or $12 million.

If a pilot program were successful, a statewide application could allow the state to do away with some of its other, non-prison sentences, such as those to corrections centers (halfway houses for prisoners nearing the end of their sentences). Offenders subjected to electronic monitoring could be supervised under a privatized probation and parole system as well. Savings: $12,195,370.

Program: Loans to parolees

 

Appropriation:

All from GF/GP:

$294,400

 

Total:

$294,400[21]

Program Description:

This appropriation funds a program whose goal, as stated by department policy, is to provide parole prisoners with “reasonable maintenance and subsistence for a two-week period.”[22] Parolees are to repay the money within 180 days of receipt.

Recommended Action:

This program should be eliminated. While the goal of helping out ex-prisoners adjust to life outside is worthy and even in the state’s interest, a revolving loan fund could be turned over either to private bail agents or nonprofit groups that are interested in helping felons as they re-enter society. Savings: $294,400.

Program: Parole/probation services

 

Appropriation:

All from Special Revenue Funds:

$2,455,300

 

Total:

$2,455,300[23]

Program Description:

This appropriation funds administrative costs, staff training and counseling, and employment assistance for offenders.

Recommended Action:

If parole and probation services are turned over to private bail agents, the need for training state employees to perform these functions could decrease dramatically — perhaps by half. Savings: $1,227,650.

Program: Corrections centers

 

Appropriation:

Special Revenue Funds:

$1,404,800

 

GF/GP:

$7,627,700

 

Total:

$9,032,500[24][25]

Program Description:

This appropriation funds Corrections centers. Corrections centers, part of community residential programs, are supervised living arrangements other than prisons. They are meant for convicts who are nearing their time of parole. Some prisoners live in a center with 24-hour security coverage, while others are placed on electronic monitoring. Prisoners must pay for the cost of their room and board if housed in a center, or for the cost of electronic monitoring, if they live on their own.

Prisoners who have committed certain crimes, such as sex crimes or drug trafficking, are not eligible for this program. Most prisoners who enter these programs do so in the last six months before their eligibility for parole. All those prisoners involved must be enrolled in a school or training program, or working. Corrections centers will be phased out by the Truth in Sentencing law, which will make those covered by the law ineligible for release from prison before the completion of a minimum sentence.[26]

Recommended Action:

These convicts are, of all people under the supervision of the department, perhaps the most interested in living in compliance with the law. Applying the private bondsman model to the community corrections operations could produce large savings. For the purposes of estimating possible savings the Mackinac Center for Public Policy will use the 10 percent figure referenced in the bondsman program, above. Savings: $903,250.

Program: Electronic monitoring center

 

Appropriation:

Special Revenue Funds:

$4,384,700

 

GF/GP:

$100

 

Total:

$4,384,800[27]

Program Description:

Funds the various centers across the state that monitor prisoners by means of electronic surveillance (tethers).

Recommended Action:

Again, a private bondsman market is a way for the state to use the private interests of bondsmen and prisoners and their families to achieve the public interest. For purposes of estimating savings from this line item, the 10 percent figure referenced in the bondsman program above will be used. Savings: $438,480.