Best of #StateReads: Michigan Confronts Crime by Parolees and Probationers

  • October 03, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads looks at the reasons for an upswing in serious crimes committed by parolees and probationers in Michigan, the unintended consequences of a clean energy law in Nevada and the success of a law to crack down on synthetic drugs in Tennessee.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“Lax controls leave Michigan's ex-cons free to kill” — Detroit Free Press

The number of recently released Michigan prisoners who were accused, charged or convicted of murder doubled between 2010 and 2011, and the numbers could be even higher this year, report L.L. Brasier and Gina Damron of the Free Press (@freep). In a three-part series, the two journalists highlighted several practices by the Michigan Department of Corrections that allowed probationers and parolees to remain free—and sometimes commit serious crimes—even after violating the terms of their release. They showed, for example, that felons tended to congregate in the same city neighborhoods and even live with each other, even though the state prohibits that contact among felons. The reporters compared Michigan's situation to those in other states, including Hawaii, which launched a program seven years ago to punish probationers immediately for even small infractions. “The department,” Brasier and Damron write, “is now scrambling to fix its mistakes — firing what it says are a small number of lax parole and probation agents, reopening a prison to house parole violators and tightening supervision.”

“NV Energy buying its renewable energy outside of Nevada, undercutting efforts to spur in-state development” — Las Vegas Sun

Nevada's law to promote clean energy use in the state encouraged the state's largest electric utility to buy out-of-state power, sometimes from century-old sources, writes David McGrath Schwartz (@schwartznews). In fact, NV Energy has bought so much power from existing sources that it now has a surplus of renewable energy credits to use later. Critics say the actions thwart the intent of the Nevada clean-energy law, because they eliminate the need to develop clean renewable sources in Nevada.

“After decades in institutions, a bumpy journey to a new life” — The New York Times

Georgia, like several other states, is under pressure from the federal government to integrate developmentally disabled patients, who now live in hospitals and other institutions, into society, reports Rachel L. Swarns (@rachelswarns). So far, Georgia has released 360 patients and will discharge another 400 in the next three years. But the transition is not easy, Swarns writes. “Most of the patients have been middle-aged and older, with little memory of their childhoods outside the institution,” she notes. “And many of their relatives — who viewed the hospital as a safe haven, not a prison — greeted the decision to move them with fear and outrage.”

“Synthetic drugs decline in TN, thanks to tougher laws” —The Tennesseean

Tennessee's efforts to reduce medical problems caused by taking synthetic drugs seem to be paying off, reports Brian Haas (@brianhaas). State lawmakers responded to the sudden rash of hospitalizations of people who ingested “designer drugs masquerading as incense, bath salts or fertilizer” by banning the sale of synthetic drugs. But they had to go a step further, Haas explains. Laws targeting specific substances were easily thwarted, because chemists could make small changes to a substance's composition and avoid the prohibitions. So legislators went after retailers, making it a felony to sell synthetic drugs. In the two years since, Haas reports, “emergency rooms are seeing declines in synthetic-drug-related visits. Treatment centers are seeing fewer cases, and police are finding these drugs less often on the streets.”

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