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Rush to judgment

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Why did a record number of people enter Michigan prisons last year? The Michigan Department of Corrections doesn’t have a clue.

“We don’t know if more crimes were committed. We don’t know if judges are sending more people to prison. We don’t know if county jails are crowded and don’t have an option,” says MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan.

The MDOC admitted 11,000 new inmates in 2002.

“It’s an all-time high,” says Marlan.

The last time the state approached that sum was a decade ago.

The state prison population grew by 3 percent in 2000 and 3.3 percent in 2001. But neither year compares with the first 10 months of 2002, when it increased by 5.2 percent, according to MDOC figures.

The increase does not match crime rates. State Police statistics indicate that crime rates have remained about the same in recent years. But compared to a decade ago, crime rates have dropped about 9 percent in Michigan, the stats show.

MDOC expected the number of incarcerated people sentenced to two years or less to drop when new sentencing guidelines took effect in 1999. Marlan says MDOC expected more of those offenders to be diverted to community programs so prison beds would be available for violent offenders. Just the opposite happened. People with sentences of two years or less increased by 22 percent in state prisons from 1999 to 2001.

Marlan says MDOC is working with counties and courts to understand what has happened. When you figure it out, let us know.

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