July 27, 2010
Governor’s Luncheon: DOC director headlines annual event
By Jon Szerlag
The Ionia Sentinel-Standard
Sat Jul 24, 2010, 12:29 AM EDT
IONIA, Mich. -For the annual Ionia Free Fair’s Governor’s Luncheon, the guest speaker of the afternoon was selected for ties to the Ionia community, as well as the state government body.
The guest speaker was Patricia Caruso, Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
“This is a prison town, and we wanted to find somebody who is a public figure who knows corrections,” said City of Ionia Mayor Dan Balice. “(Patricia Caruso) is well-known and respected speaker, who has given speeches nationally.”
Caruso talked about the economic climate of the department of corrections, how the department has improved over the last few years, and the reduction of inmates.
“Where we are today, is the opportunity that grew from the crisis that started at the end of 2001, as Michigan started to slide into that economic hole,” said Caruso. “It was that crisis that caused us to step back and look at things, that we are running the fifth largest prison system in the U.S., the fact that one in three state employees work for the department of corrections.”
Caruso explained that the legislators allowed for the MDOC to re-invest one-thirds of the dollars the department saved to support its needs, and with that re-investment were able to make improvements in personnel, devices and training.
“That re-investment has allowed us to hire additional parole information agents, the last six months we probably hired 200 people, and allowed us to greatly expand the use of GPS tether and other types of electronic monitoring,” said Caruso. “We have organizations to provide mentioning, housing, transporting, filling all the gaps causing people to fail, and we self funded that through the savings.”
The majority of the savings through the MDOC is from the drop of inmates that are out and staying out.
Caruso explained that three years ago, there were over 51,000 inmates in facilities, and as of Friday, there were just over 44,000.
“I understand the difficulty, I live in a prison community,” said Caruso. “My own community had prison closings. It is not with any happiness or glee that I ever have to contact a community and tell them that, but I also know that we do not incarcerate people to keep jobs.”
Caruso said that the department tries to keep some corrections officers who lose their jobs due to a prison closing within the system as probation and parole officers.
“We have worked very hard as we have down-sized our department, for the most part through actuation because we are big, to assist our employees,” said Caruso. “We have a lot of corrections officers who are doing a fabulous job as parole and probation agents.”
During her speech, she also said that the culture of the staff in the prisons and in the communities has changed to create an atmosphere of success for the future of the inmates, and for themselves.
“It’s a different faith in the department of corrections,” said Caruso. “We are focusing on partnering with people who are not a part of the department of corrections — like the faith-based community, providers, other state agencies, other local agencies and with neighbors.”
The event ended with the 2009 Ionia Idol winner, Jordan Carson, singing an Etta James song.