Costly Prison Crackdown

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After a prisoner was mistakenly released on parole and went on a deadly rampage last year, the state locked up more felons than it did before the killing spree, costing the Michigan Department of Corrections about $30 million, a newspaper analysis indicates.

The department finished last year with nearly 1,300 more inmates than officials anticipated, while the number of felons heading to prison each month remains higher than before Patrick Selepak's February 2006 killing spree.

"Prior to Selepak, we were keeping our prison growth under control," department spokesman Russ Marlan told The Detroit News for a Tuesday story.

Selepak, 28, of Macomb County, mistakenly had been put back on parole and later murdered three people. He is serving multiple life sentences.

Amid public outcry, and an ensuing investigation, more felons were sent to prison. But tight budgets and limited space resulted in fewer parolees with minor violations being locked up, while more prisoners were considered for parole, records show.

Michigan prisons set a record in 2006 with 850 more inmates than in 2005. The fastest growing prison term category, at 23 percent, were those of a year or less.

Mary Beth Kelly, chief judge of Wayne Circuit Court, said state sentencing guidelines leave judges little room to steer additional convicts to prison.

Meanwhile, the Corrections Department is trying to pare $92 million from its budget. One solution has been to funnel more prisoners toward parole, despite historic trends indicating that about half of all parolees end up back in jail or prison.

In the 14 months before Selepak's killing spree, the state took in 66 more prisoners than it released, according to records. But in the three months following the rampage -- March through May 2006 -- the prison population grew by 280 prisoners a month.
Parole board approvals decreased from 54.4 percent during the 14 months before Selepak's crimes to 47.5 percent during the three months after his spree. The approval rate since has climbed to 54.2 percent, records show.

"Parole is never a perfect science," said Calhoun County Prosecutor John Hallacy, a former member of the state's parole board. "I always wondered when they were going to send me my crystal ball.

"The bottom line is not how much money did you spend? The ultimate question is how safe are we?"

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