Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Medical care inflates prison costs


Capital News Service

LANSING—Michigan’s most expensive prisoners are those with serious medical problems, said Patricia Caruso, director of the Department of Corrections.

“Health care is a big, big costly issue,” said Caruso. “Keep in mind a number of things, 75 percent of people in our system had some substance abuse.

“Many times you are looking at people who may have not been accessing health care regularly before they came into prison, so you have some of those.

“Combine that with the constitutional right to health care which we have an obligation to provide, and we do provide that. And then everything else that goes with it,” she said.

John Cordell, public information specialist at the Corrections, said the only group afforded health care is prisoners because of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

From 2001 to 2007, 887 inmates died, 28 from AIDS and 790 from other illnesses. Among them, 48 died from suicide, four from homicide, three from intoxication, eight from accidents and six were from unknown causes, according to data from the  U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“When you get into the other side of it, first the length-of-stay issues and the fact that Michigan is a life-without-parole state,” Caruso said, there are going to be “people who age out and die in prison.”

“If you get a sentence of life without parole, you really are sentenced to death — you’re just sentenced to natural death,” she said.

“We have dialysis in one of our prisons, so if you are a person with compromised kidneys and you need to be on dialysis, you’re going to be at a specific prison in our system where you receive dialysis three times a week at the facility you’re at. These are very, very expensive things.

“We used to get a list of the top 100 most expensive prisoners in the system– always most expensive because of health care,” she said. “Often, the No. 1 prisoner is over a million dollars a year in health care costs.

“That’s not transporting or officers on overtime to watch them. It’s just health care.”

Caruso said, “I remember earlier this year there was a prisoner being transported every day to the University of Michigan for palliative treatment for cancer. And those are things you don’t have an option of doing.

“But we have worked controlling our costs through trying to be able deal to with more things at the prisons.”

Caruso and her department are trying to be more preventative in their approach to health care.

“But there’s still always going to be a number of things and challenges, and every so often issues come up in the health care avenue that are very challenging,” Caruso said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: State Agencies

More sex offenders released on parole

Capital News Service

LANSING – A recent increase in paroled sex offenders is expected to continue into next year, Department of Corrections officials say.

Parole approval rates for sex offenders jumped from 21 percent in 2008 to 52.8 percent last year, according to Corrections.

The Parole Board is now looking at prisoners’ risk to the public rather than the crime they committed to determine eligibility for release, which means that more people were being released who previously weren’t, said Corrections Director Patricia Caruso.

Analyzing parole based on risk instead of the underlying crime should mean that approval continues to grow for inmates who normally wouldn’t receive parole, such as sex offenders, she said.

Elizabeth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said inmates who had already served at least 120 percent of their minimum sentence had a higher chance of parole, regardless of the crime.

The group seeks to improve the effectiveness of policies and systems aimed at crime prevention and control.

She said the Parole Board should look at prisoners individually and their behavior behind bars to determine eligibility, she said.

Most defendants go to prison as the result of a plea agreement, in which a judge and prosecutor agree on an appropriate minimum sentence, Arnovits continued.

She said the Parole Board seemed to be sentencing these inmates a second time by keeping them past their minimum term.

Caruso said a large number of prisoners could be safely paroled, but until recently “no one wanted to parole a sex offender.”

“When people return, oftentimes they’re not very welcomed,” said Rebecca Stieg, Central Michigan coordinator for the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI) and a part of Michigan Works!. Her office serves eight counties, including Ionia, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm and Newaygo.

MPRI works with other organizations, such as Michigan Works!, to help prisoners with access to local resources so that they can successfully reintegrate into their community.

“Stigma is a problem, especially with individuals who have committed sex offenses in the past,” said Stieg, who is based in Big Rapids. “I think communities have a lot of misunderstandings around sex offenders in general.”

Public fear and concern surround the issue of parolees returning home, said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

“It’s certainly a concern for local law enforcement,” he said. “The numbers of parolees generate the conceivable possibility that these people will commit further crimes.”

But Stieg emphasized statistics show that “sex offenders are actually the least likely to reoffend.”

“Over 90 percent of those people who serve time return to their communities. That has not changed,” Stieg said. “As communities, we have a responsibility to bring those folks back into the fold and to help them succeed.”

Genny Wolfrum, the Harrison-based Northeast Michigan coordinator for MPRI, said, “People fear the unknown.” Her office serves 14 counties, including Alpena, Cheboygan, Clare, Gladwin, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Roscommon.

“It’s important to remove the fear and the stigma,” Wolfrum said. Just because a neighbor may have a felony “doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re in any kind of danger.”

Whenever sex offenders or violent offenders are placed, the agency informs law enforcement and “we all work together,” she said.

Wolfrum encourages people to talk to each other and interact with parolees.

“You might be surprised how many people you associate with that have a felony. They want to return to communities and give back,” she said.

Arnovits said the number of paroled inmates who return to prison is dropping, even though the number of parolees is increasing.

“We’ve reduced return-to-prison rates by 36 percent in three years,” she said. “Communities were better prepared to receive these folks,” and more programs exist to connect parolees to community resources and employment opportunities.

Crime rates throughout the state have also dropped despite the rise in parole, Arnovits added.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Animal rabies still worries officials

Capital News Service

LANSING—Rabies remains a problem in Michigan, with 70 animals testing positive so far this year.

Most cases of animal rabies are reported in the Lower Peninsula, especially in the southeast.

Counties where humans and pets were exposed to the disease but showed no risk and received adequate treatment last year include Oakland, Kent, Genesee, Shiawassee and Clinton, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Tom Cooley, a Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) biologist, said, “The lower half of Michigan has the majority of people, so the majority of human exposure is associated with the human population.”

There were 68 positive animal tests last year, 79 in 2007 and 47 in 2001.

When officers find a suspicious animal they submit it for rabies testing, said Cooley.

In 2009, a Northern Michigan man died from bat strain of rabies infection, and no human died from rabies this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before 2009, there had been no human deaths from the disease since 1983.

Bats are the most common source of human rabies infection in the United States.

“There is not really a way to control rabies in bats. Bats are the No. 1 rabies species in the state,” said Cooley.

Skunks come in second but they account for only a small percentage of cases. Even fewer instances involve household pets, he said.

Linda Benson, director of the Animal Control Division in Monroe County, takes the disease seriously and cited a situation where two bats found in the county tested positive a couple years ago. “Both were found in homes not near each other and neither one was dead,” she said.

Cooley, the state wildlife biologist, said, “The busy time is in August when young bats leave their nests and they might end up on somebody’s roof because of their inexperience or wind up in a house.

“Some people have called in the past saying they found bats dead around their yard or on the side of a building, but those bats have never tested positive,” he said.

Cooley said DNRE isn’t concerned about a raccoon strain found on the U.S. Eastern seaboard. “The only concern is if someone brings a raccoon from out of the state, but that is illegal.”

Benson said she’s not seen any rabid raccoons.

“Some fall over dead but that’s not a symptom of rabies,” she said.

Symptoms of rabies in animals include foaming at the mouth and erratic behavior, either exhibiting signs of paralysis or showing extreme excitement and aggression.

Cooley said the state tests for any strain of rabies through a Department of Community Health lab in Lansing. “What exposed that animal? We do get skunks, cows, horses that wind up getting bitten in the barn or an unvaccinated pet.”

And Benson said, “We treat every bite, scratch or skin abrasion from an animal as a potential positive for rabies.

“But the two bats really startled us. It was really bizarre because we never had any before that,” she said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Threat of foreclosure creates more “accidental landlords”

Capital News Service

LANSING—There’s no question that home ownership is down in Michigan. And property managers and the U.S. Census Bureau report the number of owners renting out their homes is up because of a poor housing market.

Jared Bundgaard, owner of Michigan Property Managers in Berkley, blames the trend in part on people losing jobs and moving out of state. Because homeowners can’t sell their property for as much as they paid, he said, they’re renting to have a better chance of recouping their investment.

He calls such individuals “accidental landlords.”

While living in another state and paying mortgages in Michigan, the homeowners are essentially going broke and are forced to rent out their house to avoid foreclosure, Bundgaard said.

“Homeowners have no other choice but to rent,” he said. “The only buying that’s going on is more or less investors and people looking for opportunities.”

Charles Ballard, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, said there are two main reasons that more people are becoming tenants rather than buying.

First, he said, lenders’ standards for issuing mortgage loans have gone up.

“Credit conditions are tighter than they were before,” Ballard said. “The meltdown of the credit market led to a recession, and that really hurt the labor market.”

Second, Ballard said, homeownership isn’t as appealing as in past.

“It’s lost some of its luster,” he said. “Renters have the advantage of not being tied down to that home.”

Michigan historically has had one of the highest rates of homeownership in the country. When ownership peaked nationally in 2004 at 69 percent, the state was at 77 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

But the number of homeowners in Michigan has dropped about 1 percent annually for the past five years, the agency said.

RealtyTrac reports that in October, one of every 235 Michigan homes was in foreclosure, while the national rate was one in 389.

Among the 10 counties with the most foreclosures were Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Kent and Ingham, said RealtyTrac, a national online marketplace for foreclosed properties.

Meanwhile, the proportion of homes rented out has risen about 1 point each year, it said.

Property management companies attribute the change to more foreclosures in a rough housing market.

Kelly Pangburn, a broker for Pangburn Properties in Grant, said she’s seen an increase of clients seeking to rent out their property in the last six months.

Pangburn said she understands why they’re coming to her, although she normally doesn’t handle property management.

“They just don’t know where else to turn,” she said. “We don’t have a facility or some kind of website for someone to look up for rental property.”

Many owners want to rent their property either because they can’t sell it or because they can’t afford it, putting them on the verge of foreclosure, she said.

The Michigan Association of Realtors said home sales in October were down 23 percent from the same month last year.

“For the last two years, that’s when it started getting more intense,” Bundgaard said.

In the last month, about 20 people asked Bundgaard about renting their homes because they can’t sell them, a larger number than usual.

“It’s becoming more common today because their houses aren’t selling,” said Pangburn. “And if they are empty, they are considering renting.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Economy

Program helps prisoners to go home and stay home

Capital News Service

LANSING—The Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative (MPRI) is developing ways to safely release inmates and prepare them to stay out.

Patricia Caruso, director of the Department of Corrections, called it a comprehensive approach to reducing crime and creating safer neighborhoods through agency and community collaboration.

The program operates statewide and most of the participants are working in their own communities, she said.

One goal is to reduce threats to public safety in the communities to which those offenders return, she said.

The second goal is to increase success rates of offenders who transition from prison with effective risk management and treatment, offender accountability and community and victim participation, she added.

There are MPRI sites around the state, including Grand Traverse, Emmet, Alpena, Cheboygan, Wayne, Macomb, Muskegon and Ingham counties.

From its inception in 2005 through May of 2010, nearly 25,000 prisoners participated in intensive prisoner re-entry.

Preliminary outcome tracking for those cases shows 33 percent fewer returns to prison for parole violations or new crimes, something referred to as recidivism.

Russell Marlan, Executive Bureau administrator at Corrections, said, “Recidivism rates have improved. Parole officers help people be successful. More parole supervision is being provided.”

Marlan said recidivism rates have improved, from a high pf 45.7 percent of 1998 parolees who returns to prison within three years to a low of 36.4 percent of 2006 parolees.

He said 2007 parolees are on track to show a further drop in recidivism once their three-year follow-up ends.

Marlan said Michigan’s overall revocation rate for 2009 was the lowest since at least 1987 and the department expects this year’s rate to be still lower.

The MPRI makes it possible for the Parole Board to release more inmates because of improved risk assessment, offender accountability and better parole outcomes, he said.

According to Caruso, there are three phases to the MPRI- – getting ready, going home and staying home.

Getting ready measures and creates assignments to reduce the offenders’ risks and build on their needs and strengths, she said.

Going home develops a strong, public safety-conscious parole plan and improves release guidelines.

Staying home provides flexible and firm supervision and services, including sanctions for misbehavior.

Caruso said future plans for the initiative includes a website to improve case management. There is also a plan to establish priorities based on risk and time to release to assign prisoners to programs.

Monique Chappa, the MPRI in-reach coordinator in Clare County, said, the program has a positive impact on prisoners.

Chappa said, “We help them get introduced into the work force and help them with setting up resumes and preparing for interviews. We also help them look for employment on the Michigan Talent Bank.”

The MPRI has helped a lot of inmates who lack family support, Chappa added.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: State Agencies

Joint efforts pay ecological dividends

Capital News Service

LANSING — State and federal agencies, conservation groups and residents have been teaming up to increase the amount of environmentally important land protected in Michigan.

Donations of natural areas, land easements and land trusts have been growing in recent years, according to conservation groups.

Amy Trotter, the resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), said, for a piece of land to be placed under easement, a government agency or conservation group must own the development rights. That means the owner keeps the property but cannot build on it for a specified amount of time.

Trotter said land easements are typically under contract for 10 years or longer.

The main reason why securing development rights is gaining popularity is that it’s cheaper than purchasing land outright to preserve it.

She said the state and environmental groups sometimes approach landowners to see if they are willing to sell their development rights for conservation purposes.

“They’re getting the conservation value but they don’t have to buy the land outright,” said Trotter.

Patrick Brown, the head of the biology department at Northern Michigan University, said those ecosystem management techniques became more common in the early 1990s, when groups started to look at what land should be protected for public use.

“The idea was to try to come up with ways the public could enjoy natural areas without spoiling them,” said Brown.

Much of the recently protected land in a more-than-250,000-acre Upper Peninsula conservation isnear state and national parks and forests, Brown said. That increases the buffer zones between parks and industrial or developed areas.

The deal was completed in September after eight years of effort.

Pamela Larson, the communications director for the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy based in Portage, said there’s been steady growth in land conservation since the late 1970s when the federal government granted tax credits to people who donated land or sold easements for conservation.

Larson said landowner education also raises interest in easements.

“As people become more concerned about the health of the environment or they start to see landscapes disappearing, they realize they have to do something to protect the wildlife,” said Larson, “Instead of a parking lot that leaches oil into our watershed, there could be an open field or a forest.”

The Southwest Michigan group protects 7,000 acres in Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties, primarily through easements.

Larson said an important part of the organization’s work is giving community talks to get the word out about land donations and easements. “We teach people that they don’t have to sell their land for development.”

Tom Bailey, the executive director of the Little Traverse Conservancy based in Harbor Springs, said there’s been a steady increase in gifts of land to his organization in the last few years.

The group protects more than 40,000 acres in Mackinac, Chippewa, Emmet, Charlevoix and Cheboygan counties. More than 28,000 of those acres are owned outright or under easements.

“Most land donations are from people with a deep love of land conservation and nature,” said Bailey, “When you see these areas where kids used to play become subdivided or have ‘no trespassing’ signs, people realize that something has to be done.”

For example, the conservancy this month announced a gift of 25 acres in Petoskey adjoining the Bay View Woods under the will of a long-time resident.

“She donated a highly desirable piece of land with a great lake view” so the public could enjoy the wildlife, said Bailey.

The breaking-up of habitats creates a big problem for environmental quality, MUCC’s Trotter said. “Land fragmentation is the top threat to a healthy ecosystem” so keeping large plots whole protects wildlife.

“When the housing boom comes back, which it will, the large chunks of quality habitat are the first at stake,” she said.

NMU’s Brown said fragmentation also restricts the movement of animals, which can threaten their survival.

And Bailey said that when it comes to protecting wildlife, bigger is always better. “As large parcels get broken up, it’s harder to protect the natural features of the land.”

Land conservation can bring economic benefits and promote tourism as well.

Bailey said unfragmented land increases property values in nearby communities because natural areas improve overall quality of life for residents. “It’s a very well-known fact that our natural resources are what people come here to enjoy.”

NMU’s Brown said logging can continue on some privately owned land, if it’s done in an environmentally responsible manner, which is how most commercial forestland in the state is managed.

He said consumers want to buy lumber that has been removed in an environmentally responsible way, so more loggers are harvesting in accordance with strict standards.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Environment

Activists push to outlaw bias in sexual orientation

Capital News Service

LANSING—For the past decade, activists have failed to persuade the Legislature to outlaw sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the state’s Civil Rights Act.

Now they plan to launch an educational campaign to finally get action.

August Gitschlag, field director for Unity Michigan, said he believes once the public is better educated, the fight will be easier to win.

Most people don’t know it’s legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, he said.

Unity Michigan is a coalition of five organizations – Triangle Foundation, Equality Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Sistahs Providing Intelligence Creativity and Empowerment and Affirmations.

“People are shocked when they hear this,” Gitschlag said. “When I first heard this just a few months ago, I thought we were past this.”

Gitschlag said he was asked at a job interview whether he is gay and became furious, not only because he isn’t gay, but because the question was asked.

Gitschlag said a plan to pass the legislation will be hashed out after getting an idea how incoming House and Senate members feel about it.

It will be Gitschlag’s job to lead education efforts based on findings about legislators’ views.

“We’re going to start visiting different organizations statewide, starting with ground-level community centers,” he said.

Jay Kaplan, an attorney for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) project at the ACLU in Detroit, said legislation to amend the anti-discrimination law has been brought up in committees but hasn’t made it any further.

Michigan is one of 29 states where it’s legal to discriminate in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identification, according to the ACLU.

Currently, the law prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, nationality, age, sex, height, weight, family status and marital status.

Gitschlag said 18 cities have adopted rights ordinances banning gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. They include East Lansing, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Saugatuck, Traverse City and Grand Ledge.

“With the exception of Ann Arbor, none of them give the right to sue over them,” said Kaplan.

Nusrat Ventimiglia, director of victim services at Equality Michigan in Detroit, said there is in underreporting of incidents, but 40 percent of complaints her organization received claimed employment discrimination.

Harold Core, director of public affairs at the Department of Civil Rights said, “A particular group has been singled out to not be protected by our state’s laws.”

“Our position is that this is a protection that our state law should offer,” he said.

Kaplan said the state’s conservative political climate will make it tough to broaden civil rights protection.

“It’s going to take more than just gay people to try to get this passed,” said Kaplan. “It’s going to have to be a coalition.”

Gitschlag also noted that no federal law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Social Policy

Advocates call for tougher steps against human trafficking

Capital News Service

LANSING – Three years ago, a group of college women was recruited to come from Ukraine to Detroit with promises of jobs as professional dancers, but were forced instead to work in strip clubs and as prostitutes.

They are among an estimated 17,500 foreign nationals who are brought to the country annually for exploitation. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked in the country is even higher, according to Polaris Project, a Washington-based organization that works to prevent human trafficking.

Victim advocates, state officials and legislators are trying to raise awareness about the issue in Michigan.

“It is a problem all over the world and our state is not immune to it,” said Jane White, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University and the founder of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

White said Michigan, as a border and agricultural state, is especially vulnerable to human trafficking.

“We have six different ways of entering into the country,” she said. “And we have a high demand for agricultural workers.”

Michigan passed a package of laws this year to crack down on such crimes, but Rep. Mary Valentine, D-Norton Shore, said stronger measures are needed.

Anne Pawli, Valentine’s legislative assistant, said, “We want to raise awareness of human trafficking in Michigan and educate legislators about the need for strong legislation.”

Statistics show 80 percent of victims are female and 50 percent are minors.

Most are forced to work as cheap laborers or in the sex trade, White said.

A recent report by the Michigan Women’s Foundation shows an increasing trend in the number of young girls who are sexually exploited.

Bridgette Carr, human trafficking clinic director at the University of Michigan, said victims are in the state’s big cities and small towns, in hotels, restaurants and hair salons.

But she said the chance of rescuing them is “extremely low” because most people aren’t aware of the issue and can’t identify victims.

“Until we acknowledge this reality, we are not able to identify and rescue victims,” Carr said.

The Ukrainian women were rescued. At least one went home and one has a public relations job in Detroit. Nine defendants in the case were sentenced to the federal prison.

The Department of Human Services and local groups offer shelter, food, clothing, counseling and medical treatment for young victims. The department has served about 80 children in the past three years.

The Hope Project, a faith-based nonprofit group in Muskegon, also helps rehabilitate juvenile victims. It’s building a rehabilitation center with a school, facilities for activities and walking and bike trails.

Women at Risk International, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit organization, connects rescued women and children with those who can provide shelter, therapy, child care, education and other services.

Jennifer Roberts, the organization’s executive assistant, said it also tries to identify and rescue victims.

“In Grand Rapids we have helped Homeland Security in the last year uncover one brother with underage girls and several trafficking leads,” she said.

MSU’s White said law enforcement agencies and victim services providers must collaborate to prevent trafficking, prosecute criminals and rescue victims.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Legislation

Corrections officials want alternative program renewed


Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan is scheduled to eliminate a money-saving prison program in two years unless the incoming Legislature extends it.

The Special Alternative Incarceration (SAI) facility in Chelsea runs a 90-day program that’s an alternative to prison and saves the state $30 to $35 million a year, as estimated by state fiscal analysts.

“What we’re doing in the Department of Corrections at this point is the best I’ve ever seen,” said Fred Goff, SAI deputy warden and a 37-year department employee. “We’re actually addressing the needs of the offender to provide them with the tools they need to become successful and also to protect the community.”

Both those on probation and those in prison are eligible for the program, said Keith Hickmon, the parole and probation manager for the facility.

However, many crimes disqualify candidates, so most trainees were convicted of nonviolent offenses. The facility holds about 400 trainees at a time.

When sentencing defendants, judges have the option of sending them to the SAI facility, which started admitting women in 1992 but began as a military-style boot camp for men only in 1988.

“Research has shown over the years that that does not work,” Goff said of the military approach. “If somebody is getting ready to commit a crime, I don’t want them to give me 50 push-ups. I want them to think about it.”

In 2008, SAI converted to a program that combines physical activity with behavioral education and therapy. That education covers such topics as critical thinking skills, anger management, substance abuse, family dynamics and even how to choose an appropriate significant other.

“We call that program ‘Pick a Partner,’” Goff said. “A lot of people think that’s not important, but it really is because a lot of our individuals have selected enablers or people who are much like themselves. When you’re paroled and are released into the community, you can’t go back to someone who’s using drugs or drinking alcohol.”

Trainees, as participants are called, can also obtain GEDs and develop life skills such as managing finances, writing a resume and interviewing for a job.

“Most of our people have never had a checkbook,” Goff said. “They may have had a credit card, but unfortunately it usually belonged to someone else.”

Goff added that it’s vitally important to the trainees’ future success that they gain such basic skills before returning to their communities.

“What we used to do in the prison system was give somebody $75 and send them on their way,” he said. “We found that didn’t work because the majority of people just get high, or don’t even make it back to their parole agents.”

The effect of SAI on the recidivism rate – the rate at which released prisoners reoffend –is under study by the JFA Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice research group, but Goff said it is lower than the rate for inmates in traditional facilities.

Lower recidivism rates and reduced prison costs are important to a cash-strapped budget, said Jennifer Cobbina, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University.

“Jails and prisons are overcrowded and states just can’t afford it,” Cobbina said. “And it’s not necessarily helping those who are incarcerated, most of whom are nonviolent offenders.

“Research often shows that prisoners in traditional facilities often come out worse than they went in because they’re nonviolent offenders, and they’ve been hardened,” she said.

Cobbina added that it’s often difficult to get lawmakers to accept alternative incarceration programs because they don’t want to be seen as “soft on crime.”

Elizabeth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, said that type of thinking creates negative outcomes for both the state and its residents.

“I hope it’s not just looked at from an ideological point of view,” Arnovits said. She said opponents of extending the SAI program after Dec. 31, 2012, “are just upset that people aren’t going to prison for a long period of time – they’re not looking at the effectiveness of the programming or the reduced risk to the community.”

Corrections Director Patricia Caruso agreed that the SAI program helps to break the cycle of crime and deserves another chance.

“I know it will stay open if the decision is based on outcomes and performance,” Caruso said. “When you make decisions outside of that, all bets are off.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: State Agencies

Energy-saving efforts give ski resorts a lift


Capital News Service

LANSING – Amid hopes for a white winter, ski resort owners are thinking green.

Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association in Clarkston, said some Michigan ski areas are making environmental choices inspired by a global trend in eco-tourism.

“More people are looking to see the world in its natural state,” MacWilliams said. “It’s our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. It just makes sense.”

MacWilliams said that ski areas are major energy users when keeping buildings warm, making snow and operating lifts.

Thus, going green is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable, she said.

Resorts such as Pine Knob in Clarkston, Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs and Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls have already made changes to conserve energy and reduce waste.

Hugh McDiarmid, communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said investments in energy efficiency can provide substantial paybacks for resource-intensive businesses like resorts.

“They can make changes to save money and lower utility bills permanently by doing things such as replacing windows to save on heat costs,” McDiarmid said. “They’re helping themselves.”

Making changes such a purchasing wind energy credits to operate a chair lift at Crystal Mountain was an additional expense, said Brian Lawson, the resort’s director of public relations.

Crystal Mountain purchases the wind energy credit equivalent to the amount of kilowatt-hours of energy it would take in regular energy to operate the chairlift. A company in Boulder, Colo., provides the credits.

However, the lodge will save in other ways, said Lawson, who noted that it began energy-saving efforts in 2007.

For example, the resort can save an estimated half-million dollars by using compact fluorescent light bulbs in its lodging units, he said.

Rob Shick, the general manager of Pine Knob, also had saving costs in mind this year.

According to Shick, Pine Knob installed energy-efficient glass, put in vapor barriers near doors and is replacing all lights in the lodge with low-energy bulbs.

But the real money-saver was reducing the energy used for making snow this year, Shick said.

“Saving energy on snowmaking has been the thrust of what we’ve been doing,” Shick said, noting that this is the first year that the ski area will operate with an entire set of guns that use 10-horsepower motors instead of 20-horsepower ones.

Pine Knob makes its own snow guns, and it took five years to replace the motors, he said.

“Snowmaking is only 20 to 25 days out of the season but we can tell we’re pulling less energy. Every little bit helps,” Shick said.

McDiarmid said a resort’s decision to save energy can also draw customers.

“People want to patronize places they know make efforts to help the environment,” he said. “Plus, with lower costs in the long run, businesses can pass along the savings to customers.

But Crystal Mountain hasn’t lowered costs for its customers yet, Lawson said.

“We hope to get to a point someday where clean energy is more broadly used and inexpensive,” Lawson said.

However, he said the resort’s clientele appreciates efforts to go green, such as using wind energy credits to operate a chairlift and having a LEED-certified spa, meaning that the building was built and is operated using energy saving strategies and environmentally-friendly products.

“It’s certainly appreciated by customers who come stay and feel very good about how responsible our resort is and the proactive approach were taking to environmental practices,” Lawson said. “They want to support it.”

McDiarmid said scenic settings are also drawing cards for tourism-related businesses.

“It’s not just the skiing itself but the clean air, trees and snow that people go for,” he said.

Shick said he’s looking into the future, hoping that one day there will be a more sustainable way to provide outdoor stadium lighting.

“Energy-efficient solutions for outdoor lighting are still lagging behind,” he said. “Nobody likes to be viewed as an energy pig.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Environment

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