Michigan prisons

There are a couple of stories today you may have missed that I think are profoundly significant, but which won’t get a fraction of the attention they should.

A taxpayer-financed prison from the tough-on-crime era is back in the news. The Northlake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan has been a conundrum for taxpayers since it was opened in 1999 (amid more than a little controversy).

The Prison Blues

Apr 15, 2016

What’s being called a major battle over the state’s prison budget is taking shape in Lansing. To save money, John Proos, the chair of the relevant state senate subcommittee, wants to close two prisons, and lease and operate a now-private prison in Baldwin.

However, those who run the Department of Corrections don’t want to close any of the state’s 35 prisons, and say they need them in case the state prison population ever rises again.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Two prisons would close under a plan adopted today by a state Senate budget subcommittee.

The budget proposal does not specify which prisons would be closed. That would be up to the Department of Corrections.

The proposal also calls for the state to lease a privately owned prison in the northern Michigan town of Baldwin that’s currently used to house out-of-state inmates. The move is a response to a decline in the number of prison inmates.

flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Thanks to an opinion handed down Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, some 350 Michigan prison inmates woke up today with a new view on life.

In a six-to-three decision, the High Court ruled that all prisoners who have been sentenced to life without parole for crimes committed as minors should be given a chance to seek parole.

Deborah LaBelle is an Ann Arbor-based attorney and director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative with the ACLU.

Solitary confinement is a means of punishment used to varying degrees in prisons across the country
flickr user Still Burning / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Imagine that you’re in prison, and you mess up. Maybe you lose your temper and lash out at a corrections officer, or you use your fists to resolve a conflict with your cellmate.

That can land you in “administrative segregation,” also known as solitary confinement.

Too many Americans have languished in solitary, not knowing when they’ll get out and not being allowed privileges like calls from home. And when they do get out, they’re often worse off than they were before they went into solitary, full of anger and seeking retribution.

Shayan Sanyal/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Aging inmates are the fastest-growing population in Michigan’s prisons.

This has presented a critical challenge: how to provide end-of-life care to those inmates.

That’s where a prison hospice program called CHOICES comes into play. It stands for Choose, Health Options, Initiate Care, and Educate Self.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Drones have many uses. But Michigan lawmakers want to discourage one in particular: delivering contraband to state prison inmates.

Across the country in recent months, people trying to smuggle all kinds of things into prisons have turned to drones. 

Earlier this month, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill designed to save the state money and allow some people to salvage their lives by making it easier for prisoners who are no longer a threat to society to get out of prison on parole.

This bill makes a vast amount of sense, and is being supported by responsible and intelligent conservatives like State Representative Kurt Heise of Plymouth Township, its Republican sponsor, and Governor Snyder. 

Michigan is drowning financially in our huge and bloated corrections system.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

State lawmakers this week will discuss outside oversight for prison food facilities.

State Representative John Kivela, D-Marquette, wants local health departments to inspect prison kitchens.

The facilities have been self-inspecting for decades.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A national group representing the left and right of the political spectrum is concentrating on Michigan as ripe for criminal justice changes that include releasing parolees earlier and taming law enforcement's seizure of people's assets regardless of whether charges are filed.

  The U.S. Justice Action Network comprises groups such as the liberal American Civil Liberties Union and conservative FreedomWorks. The organization's executive director, Holly Harris, has been lobbying lawmakers and hopes legislation is enacted by year's end.

Shayan Sanyal/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Michigan appeals court has ruled in favor of the state and dismissed a major class-action lawsuit by young prisoners who said guards failed to stop sexual assaults behind bars.

The court says Michigan's civil rights law doesn't apply to lawsuits by prisoners. It also dismissed the case on other technical grounds in a decision released Wednesday.

flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

What determines whether a prisoner should be paroled?

In Michigan, that decision is informed by a risk assessment questionnaire called COMPAS.

Sonja B. Starr is a professor of law at the University of Michigan and is the co-director of the Center for Empirical Legal Studies.

Aramark uniforms delivery truck, Westland Michigan
Dwight Burdette / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM


After 19 months of maggoty food, traces of rodents, workers engaging in sex acts with inmates, and much more, the state of Michigan today has terminated its contract with Aramark to feed prison inmates.

The Detroit News’ Chad Livengood tells us that each side has said this decision was the result of a mutual agreement.

barbed wire fence
FLickr user H. Michael Karshis / Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

How much does crime really cost? Millions of dollars per day and billions per year. The high cost has jail and prison administrators seeking ways to ease this burden on taxpayers.

One way to do that is charging the inmates fees.

In Michigan, inmates are required to pay for necessities. It's called "pay to stay." Backers say it teaches the prisoners a lesson and keeps them from making frivolous and wasteful requests. But what happens when a prisoner's small paycheck doesn't cover the expenses?

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There's no denying that state spending and budgets are stretched tight, and it's forcing a fresh look at the soaring costs of our prisons.

What are we really getting for the $2 billion we spend per year on corrections? And how can we trim that corrections bill?

Nearly two weeks ago, the legislature narrowly passed a bill to allow GEO, a for-profit multinational private company, to bring highly dangerous prisoners from other states to a facility it runs in the northern Lower Peninsula.

Derek Key / flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A state House panel on Tuesday will consider making it easier for some low-level inmates to get out on parole.

“The idea is that we’re trying to reduce our prison population in a way that is fair to everybody concerned, that saves taxpayer dollars, and that helps these individuals reintegrate back into society,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, who also chairs the House Criminal Justice Committee.

flickr user Thomas Hawk / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Law enforcement officials gathered in Detroit Wednesday to encourage area employers to hire more former prisoners.

Studies show that of the 13,000 prisoners released in Michigan each year, one third will become re-offenders.

Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, the popular law and order slogans were “get tough on crime,” and “lock ‘em up and throw the key away.”

Well, we tried that.

What it got us was an increase in the state prison population from 18,000 to more than 50,000.

Job cuts as Michigan closes regional prison stores

Apr 8, 2015

Michigan is slated to close three regional prison stores in Ionia, Jackson, and the Upper Peninsula.

That means around 30 employees who staff the stores will lose their jobs.

The stores stock items like toiletries and food, which inmates can purchase through an electronic kiosk system.

flickr user FatMandy / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

DETROIT - The Michigan Supreme Court has put the brakes on a lawsuit that accuses state prison officials of failing to prevent the sexual assault of male teen inmates.

The court ordered a stay Friday and told the appeals court to consider whether it can be a class-action case, possibly affecting hundreds of people. 

Shayan Sanyal/flickr / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's prison system is defending against a major lawsuit that claims guards and other employees failed to prevent the sexual assault of male inmates under 18 who were housed with adults. 

After more than a year of litigation, the young inmates have made some important victories. Washtenaw County Judge Carol Kuhnke has agreed to make the case a class-action and also declared that state civil rights protections apply.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Snyder administration says an official overseeing Michigan's prison food contract with Aramark Correctional Services has left the job after five months.

Ed Buss is an ex-Florida and Indiana prison chief. He began work Sept. 2 overseeing Michigan's three-year, $145 million contract with Philadelphia-based Aramark.

User: Michigan State Spartans / facebook

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss Governor Rick Snyder’s air gun legislation veto, a new criminal justice commission, and legislation that forbids Michigan public university athletes from unionizing.


Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder may soon approve a commission to review the state’s criminal justice policies.

Advocates say the state needlessly warehouses some inmates who would not threaten public safety if released. They say that’s a major reason Michigan spends $2 billion a year on its corrections system.

The commission would make recommendations to the Legislature on ways to safely reform the state’s criminal justice system.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT - A lawmaker from western Michigan is leading an effort to possibly save millions of dollars in the criminal justice system.

  Rep. Joe Haveman, a Republican from Holland, hopes to bring a pack of the bills to the House floor this week that would make changes in the parole process and create a commission to study sentences.

  Haveman wants to try to get more people out of prison if they're eligible for parole and not a risk to the public. He's been working with prosecutors, judges, sheriffs and defense lawyers on a compromise.

Kevin Rosseel / morguefile

Bills that seek to reduce prison spending in Michigan seem to have momentum going into the last weeks of the Legislature’s 2014 session.

Michigan spends about $2 billion every year on prisons. The legislation seeks to reduce the length of some prison stays and provide more supervision for people after they are released from prison.

The most widely supported proposal would create a commission to oversee sentencing guidelines and discuss other corrections policies.

“It creates a forum for exploring all this. And it’s something Michigan badly needs,” said Barbara Levine with the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending.

user memories_by_mike / Flickr

This Week in Review, Jack 
Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss the latest polls for Michigan’s governor and U.S.Senate races, Detroit’s decision to keep emergency manager Kevyn Orr on board for now, and the latest scandal with Aramark, the state’s food services provider.

Outside the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.
Michigan Department of Corrections

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP – The Michigan Court of Appeals  has cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit by dozens of male guards who say they've been denied overtime and job assignments at the state's only prison for women.

In a 3-0 opinion released Wednesday, the court affirmed the decision of a Washtenaw County judge.

The lawsuit centers on employment rules at the Huron Valley prison for women. In response to allegations of sexual abuse at the prison, the Civil Service Commission approved job qualifications that put only women in certain jobs.

The lawsuit claims the Michigan Department of Corrections is violating the civil rights of male officers at the prison.

The appeals court says officers have cleared the threshold for a class-action lawsuit, based on the number of plaintiffs, common issues and other factors.

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