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Alger Max program is a step in right direction

January 7, 2012
The Daily News

A prison program that cuts costs while making the correctional facility a safer environment for inmates and staff? Sounds like an impossible mission.

But the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising has used the "Incentives in Segregation" program to cut the use of administrative segregation - restrictive custody used as a disciplinary measure by the Michigan Department of Corrections - by 10 percent.

That's a significant reduction, especially when you consider the costs to state taxpayers. Holding an inmate in a normal cell costs $33,000 annually and incarceration in a segregation cell doubles that amount.

In administrative segregation, inmates are restricted from using prison programs and interacting with other people. They are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day, handcuffed when they leave their cells, and they eat from serving trays pushed through door slots. Prisoners with adjustment problems or those who pose safety, security or escape risks are the ones who generally end up in segregation

The Alger facility has been in the forefront of testing an experimental system of incentives designed to reduce the misconduct that leads to segregation. Since the prison's pilot project started in July 2009, there has been a dramatic drop in the need for segregation cells. And officials recently reported the "major misconduct" and "critical incident" events that lead to segregation have been halved.

The program isn't magic - it works by offering inmates a way to earn a place back in the general prison population. Inmates have to work through six stages over several months. Specific tasks are required of the inmates, and specific privileges are granted when they succeed.

Alger Warden Catherine Bauman said the reinforcement of positive behavior gives prisoners something concrete to work for and something to lose, a change that's made for "a safer environment for staff and prisoners."

The Alger program has been making waves around the state - expanding to the Baraga, Marquette Branch and Ionia prisons. Corrections officials in California, Colorado, Maine, New York, Maine and Ohio are looking into Alger's incentive program, too.

We congratulate the forward-thinking corrections officials who are pushing this incentive program ahead. In a vexing era of tight state budgets and competing priorities, we need creative programs to make our prisons safer and less expensive.

This seems like part of the solution.

The Mining Journal




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