Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 1, 2012

Michigan runs 31 prisons and employs 15,000

Michigan runs 31 prisons and employs 15,000


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---- — LANSING (AP) — An increasing number of former Michigan convicts are killing people after getting out of prison, a problem that the state Department of Corrections and its employees union blame on each other, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Statewide, 88 probationers or parolees committed 95 homicides from January 2010 through Aug. 31, 2012, according to a review by the Detroit Free Press. Ex-cons under state supervision killed 21 people in 2010, 38 in 2012 and 36 in the first eight months of 2012, the report found.

Michigan has cut corrections spending under budget pressures. It operates 31 prisons, employs 15,000 people and has a $2 billion annual budget. About 51,000 people are on probation and 18,000 on parole in Michigan.

The Corrections Department has started monthly audits on caseloads of probation agents and has taken other steps to reduce crimes by people on parole or probation, said department Director Daniel Heyns. He said it is too soon to tell what the efforts have accomplished.

In March, Heyns acknowledged problems with Michigan's supervision of former convicts and said steps would be taken to overcome those.

"I think that we needed to tighten up our supervision," Heyns said at the time. "I think we needed to audit caseloads. We needed to find out which agents were complying with the policy and which ones weren't. And in the cases where we screwed something up, we needed to take action because it's not just that case, but it's the message it sends to the employees."

The union for Michigan's 1,300 parole and probation agents said the economically challenged department is playing a dangerous game with the public's safety by forcing agents to ignore signs of trouble when supervising offenders.

"You practically have to kill somebody nowadays to be returned to prison," said Kelly Barnett, a representative for United Auto Workers Local 6000 and a former probation officer. "It is a pressure cooker for the agents because they know that policy has tied their hands, that upper management has tied their hands, but it gives the impression that these agents are not doing their jobs."

The newspaper said the Corrections Department has fired or suspended 12 agents or supervisors from its metropolitan Detroit unit for failing to follow proper procedures in overseeing people on probation or parole.

They include the agents supervising Alan Wood and Tonia Watson, who were allowed to remain free despite evidence they were committing new crimes. They are awaiting trial in January in the home invasion-knife killing Nancy Dailey, 80, of Royal Oak on Nov. 20, 2011.