Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 6, 2014

Forum: Return to local control

What happens within a prison population when prisoners convicted of violent crimes are mixed in with inmates incarcerated for non-violent crimes?

Odd question? This is the new reality at neighboring Pugsley Correctional Facility. A non-violent offender I counseled in the Grand Traverse County Jail who ended up in Puglsey recently had his ribs kicked in and his glasses smashed in what until recently had been a relatively safe environment.

How is this possible? Well, it is roughly $14,000 cheaper to eliminate violent criminal designations (levels 4 and 5) and mix them in with lower-level nonviolent offenders. The Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections in Lansing is reaching his “budget targets” in this way. Of course, the human costs and those from increased medical bills and potential lawsuits may actually offset any real dollar savings.

Isn’t this the type of result we should expect when the principle of “subsidiarity,” which says that quality decisions are made by local stake-holders, including taxpayers, is turned on its head?

Consider our schools. Why are districts all around us struggling with budget deficits though they continually tighten their belts? Before the state Legislature took over control of funding, financial support was a local issue. The community could rally around their schools and judiciously adjust revenue from millage as needed.

Now we watch the promise of adequate funding for public schools continually broken by a Legislature that would rather give tax cuts to business (still not hiring) paid for by diminished school funding. Raiding the fund again last year to prop up higher education has contributed to the cuts in humanities programming, among other things, vital to well-rounded students. And educators, the No 1 factor in student achievement, have watched their salaries decline by 10 to 15 percent in the last five years even as they pay more for health coverage.

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