prisons

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state Senate Judiciary committee will consider a bill tomorrow that would make it easier for criminals to have part of their records expunged.

House Bill 4186 would allow people convicted of a single felony or a couple of misdemeanors to apply to have them removed from their record.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state House has approved bills meant to reduce prison costs in Michigan. But the sponsor of the legislation says the bills have been “gutted.”

State Representative Joe Haveman, R-Holland, says provisions were taken out that would have kept more people out of prison.

As part of its mission to save shelter dogs from being euthanized, Refurbished Pets of Southern Michigan came up with an idea: place these rescued or unwanted dogs with trainers - trainers who have the time to work with the dogs, to train them for adoption into a good home - trainers who are behind bars.

The RPSM's Correctional Companion Program places dogs with specially trained prison inmates, and what happens in the time these inmates spend with their dogs is powerful. Martin Daughenbaugh has seen this power in his own life. As an inmate of the state prison in Coldwater, Martin met a blind dog named Quinn.

And it's a story worth sharing.

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.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The company behind Michigan’s troubled prison food service is keeping its contract.  But it’s also paying a price.

Aramark’s problems have ranged from maggots in the food to food service employees having sexual relations with inmates. 

Gov. Rick Snyder today announced Aramark will pay a $200,000 fine. The governor says there will also be changes to the food service contract.     

Wikimedia Commons

In a story we aired yesterday on European prisons, we learned the apparent key to reducing recidivism. In Europe, keeping family ties intact is priceless.

There’s a juvenile justice plan in Berrien County that’s been applying these principles since 2001, strengthening family ties, and keeping young offenders out of jail when possible.

And their approach is paying off.

Elvin Gonzalez is the family Division Administrator for the Berrien County Trial Court.

He said that when looking at the youth who come into to court to look at their family system.

“Many of the factors that contributed to them being logged with delinquency came from two primary domains, their family domain and their school domain,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said that it was important to address both of those domains and provide interventions that target those areas, strengthen the families’ ability to supervise, effectively monitor and discipline, and support their children.

“Our belief is, is that kids live in an ecology. That ecology is their family system, their neighborhood, their community, their school and we needed to impact those areas to help youth be successful in our communities," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez added that while they are trying to fix the source of the youth’s actions, accountability for those actions are not forgotten.

The county has seen a lot of success with their programs. In 2001, more than 125 youths were in out-of-home residential placements throughout Michigan. Today, that number has dropped to about 40 youths.

Recidivism has dropped from more than 58% in 1998 to 17.5% in 2012. 

“It’s important that we help kids learn various skills, be more effective in managing conflict, make better decisions – but ultimately, at the end of the day, we need to move the needle on recidivism,” Gonzalez said.

*Listen to full interview above.

Wikimedia Commons

All across Michigan, serious questions are being raised about the way our state deals with criminals.

The annual price tag for corrections in Michigan is around $2 billion a year. That’s more than is given for higher education. Michigan also keeps prisoners behind bars longer than the national average.

Is that money giving us a safer state? Are there other approaches?

Christopher Moraff, a writer for Next City, wrote an article titled: "Can Europe offer the U.S. a Model for Prison Reform?"

In his piece, Moraff looked mostly at prisons in Germany and the Netherlands.

In contrast to Europe’s rehabilitation mission, U.S. prisons focus much more on punishing convicted criminals through concepts such as minimum sentences and exclusion from communities.

“In neither of those countries, in Germany or the Netherlands, is the sole purpose of incarceration to protect society that’s written in law,” Moraff said.

Moraff said there is an effort to create a normalized set of circumstances to mimic community life as much as possible to re-socialize offenders for when they are released.

Many European prisoners go home on the weekends to visit their families, have the right to vote, wear their own clothes and make their own meals. Prisoners live in cells that resemble a college dorm. They are allowed to decorate their rooms, and guards knock before entering to instill a sense of privacy and humanity.

“If we make the goal re-socialization, dehumanization is not the right way to go about that,” Moraff said.

Moraff said that the guards who work at the correctional facilities have backgrounds in law, mental health, and counseling. They are trained to help provide a therapeutic environment for the people they oversee. They do not simply do head counts and prevent fights.

“There is a level of professionalism and a level of training that goes with this that is unlike anything we have in America,” Moraff said.

Moraff said there have been some efforts made in Pennsylvania and Colorado to retrain their staff in these methods.

*Listen to full story above

Matt / Flickr

Problems keep piling up at Parnall Correctional Facility near Jackson.

Last week, maggots were found on the serving line in the prison's cafeteria.

Over the weekend, inmates started getting sick with a stomach virus.

And the problems have gotten worse. Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan says the number of sick prisoners is now up to 150, and the prison's been put under quarantine.

Larry Farr / Morguefile

Helping prison officials and the families of prisoners communicate better is the goal of a pilot project at three Michigan prisons. So is providing support to the families of prisoners.

The privately funded Family Participation Program will partner with the Michigan Department of Corrections.

MDOC spokesperson Russ Marlan says it's hard for family members to negotiate the unfamiliar world of prisons. 

He said having an independent liaison for each prison will make it easier for family members to get their questions answered.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - About 130 Michigan prison inmates will have an opportunity to seek parole in a case that ends an unusual state policy of treating them as mandatory lifers.

The state won't appeal a 2013 court decision that struck down the policy and has agreed to clear the way for a parole process. Judge Deborah Servitto signed an order last week.

It's an odd case. The inmates were sent to prison with life sentences for a variety of crimes but still had a chance at parole. Then they got in trouble for possessing a weapon or committing another offense behind bars.

Michigan Department of Corrections

The Michigan Department of Corrections has released a report on last month’s escape from a state prison in Ionia. The report puts much of the blame on two corrections employees.

Convicted killer Michael Elliot, dressed all in white to match the snow on the ground, slipped through the fences at the Ionia Correctional facility to freedom the night of February 2. He was captured in northern Indiana the next day, after carjacking a woman in Ionia.

Michigan Dept. of Corrections

IONIA, Mich. (AP) - The convicted killer who escaped from a Michigan prison says it "was relatively simple."

Michael Elliot was discovered missing Sunday during an inmate count at the Ionia Correctional Facility, 30 miles east of Grand Rapids. The 40-year-old was arrested Monday in northwestern Indiana, driving a stolen vehicle.

The Detroit Free Press reports Elliot used his one phone call at the Indiana jail where he's being held on $1 million bond to discuss the escape with the newspaper.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

IONIA, Mich. (AP) - Two employees have been suspended at a western Michigan prison where a convicted killer escaped for 24 hours.

Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan says one is an officer and the other is a shift commander. He declined to provide their names or any other details but says the suspensions are related to the investigation at the Ionia Correctional Facility.

Michael Elliot escaped last Sunday and left the state in a Jeep that belonged to a Belding woman. She got away later that night. Elliot was captured Monday in northwestern Indiana.

Donald Harrison / Flickr

Jackson, Michigan was home to one of the largest prisons in the world – the Michigan State Prison, later renamed the State Prison of Southern Michigan.

We went on a tour of the old prison with Jackson Historic Prison Tours. While there we met some former prisoners and prison staff, and decided to follow up with them afterwards.

Listen to their powerful stories above.

Mercedes Mejia

This week, Zak Rosen with State of Opportunity reported on the school-to-prison pipeline. It's known to be pattern seen across the country of students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

In Rosen's report we learned about Youth Voice, a student lead community organizing group that’s working to break the school-to-prison pipeline and revise Zero Tolerance policies. Today we talk with Chanel Kitchen, a member of Youth Voice.

To learn more about Youth Voice you can visit their Facebook page here

Listen to the full interview with Chanel Kitchen, just click on the link above.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Bars could stay open until 4 am

“Legislation at the state Capitol would let downtown bars and restaurants sell alcohol until 4 am. Michigan’s liquor code generally bans alcohol sales between 2 am and 7 am,” Jake Neher reports.

Detroit EM talks DIA assets

“Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr says the Christie's auction house will finish an assessment of city-owned pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts this month, and he defends including their possible sale in the city's bankruptcy process,” the Associated Press reports.

State rejects private prison

“Michigan has rejected allowing a privately run, for-profit prison to house about a thousand inmates. The state turned down two bids because there was no savings for taxpayers,” Rick Pluta reports.

Village hopes a private prison brings jobs, money
Flickr user Still Burning / Creative Commons

When the public hears that a prisoner has been sentenced to serve time in jail, most of us allow ourselves to think that the guilty party will do the time.

But what happens when the number of prisoners who are sentenced outstrips the capacity of that jail? Do you cram in more and more inmates? Relieve overcrowding through early release? Reduce bonds? And what are the repercussions of each of those approaches?

Daniel Manville is an Associate Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University. He joined us today to discuss the issue.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder says he plans to push ahead with plans to privatize food service for the state's 45,000 prison inmates under a proposed $145 million, 3-year contract.

Snyder tells the Detroit Free Press that he'll consider objections from Republican state Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba and unionized prison employees and others but won't let them block the process.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A group of police chiefs and district attorneys is asking Congress to invest $75 billion over the next ten years on early childhood programs with proven success. The group says the investment will more than pay for itself in terms of reducing crime and prison costs.

The group says it’ll save money on prison costs in the long run.

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller says the State of Michigan and the country is at a fork in the road; spend money now on early childhood development, or spend more money later in the corrections department.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's prison system is crediting the introduction of Tasers for a drop in attacks on its employees.

The Michigan Department of Corrections issued the electronic stunning devices in five prisons in December 2011 and expanded the deployment system-wide last year.

The Lansing State Journal says a Michigan prison employee uses a Taser on a prisoner about twice a day. It says there have been 576 Taserings since Oct. 1, 2012.

Village hopes a private prison brings jobs, money
Flickr user Still Burning / Creative Commons

It was 1998 when Michigan's lawmakers voted to approve tougher "lock 'em up policies."

Some may argue whether that made Michigan any safer, but one thing cannot be argued: Michigan leads the nation in average time served by inmates: 4.3 years. That's 48% higher than the national average of 2.9 years. That's according to a 2012 national study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

And these tough sentencing guidelines are exacting a cost from the state's collective "wallet." Michigan's corrections budget currently exceeds $2 billion.

The state sentencing guidelines have not been reviewed for 15 years.

In response, the Michigan Law Review Commission has launched a bipartisan review to figure out just where Michigan stands when compared to the rest of the nation, and where reform might be needed.

According to new data, prisoners in Michigan serve longer sentences than in any other state. That's on top of the fact that Michigan has not reviewed its sentencing guidelines for 15 years. On today’s show, we dug deeper into what's behind prison sentences.

And, as Detroit faces bankruptcy, a deal has been struck to build a new sports arena in the city's downtown. We found out if that's really what Detroit needs right now.

Also, there’s a softball team in West Michigan with some members that have been playing together for four decades. We spoke with two women from the team.

First on the show, where were you ten years ago when the power died?

That's what many of us in the Midwest are asking each other today.

It was ten years ago this day when the largest blackout in North America left 55 million people in 8 states and Canada in the dark.

The cost of the Blackout of 2003? Anywhere from $4-10 billion.

What changes have been made to the grid in that decade? Could a blackout like that happen again?

Maggie Koerth-Bakeris a science columnist for the New York Times Magazine, the science editor at BoingBoing.net, and the author of Before the Lights Go Out.

She joined us today Minneapolis.

Flick user Still Burning / Creative Commons

Prisoners in Michigan serve longer sentences than in any other state. That's according to a recent Pew study, which finds lengthy sentences have bloated the state's corrections budget. Michigan spends more than two billion dollars a year on prisons.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

A federal judge says 363 inmates in Michigan prisons sentenced to life without parole as juveniles should get parole hearings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that laws like Michigan’s that automatically send some juveniles to prison for life with no chance of parole are “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has been trying to limit the scope of the ruling to five inmates who challenged their sentences and to all future cases. He says families of murder victims deserved the certainty of knowing those sentences would stand.

user aMichiganMom / Flickr

This "week in review," Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry discuss the Detroit primary results, the future of the DIA collection, and prison sentencing reform in Michigan.

Mike Duggan sweeps the primary vote

Mike Duggan's write-in campaign ended this week with surprising success. 85 percent of voters who wrote in his name spelled it correctly resulting in a huge lead for the Detroit mayoral contender.

Jack Lessenberry says, "It'll remain to be seen what happens in November.  One thing we know is that a lot more people will vote."

DIA collection appraised by Christie's Auction House

The Detroit Institute of Arts collection has been put at risk by Detroit's bankruptcy. The city invited Christie's Auction House to appraise the collection, perhaps simply to take inventory of its assets.

Lessenberry thinks that people are panicked about the possible sale of the art.  He says "the Attorney General thinks it's not constitutional, although if a federal bankruptcy judge says it is, federal law trumps state law."

Michigan considers parole and sentencing reform

Conservative lawmakers are considering overhauling prison sentences.  State Representative Joe Haveman is leading the cause, citing that harsher sentences are not keeping us any safer.

Lessenberry says, "Michigan locks up more people, locks them up for longer, and it costs us more.  It costs $34,000 per prisoner and we have 44,000 prisoners."

We spend far more money on prisons than on higher education in this state, and the old saying is true. You really do reap what you sow. Michigan lags behind our neighboring states when it comes to percentage of highly educated young adults.

But we lead the nation in keeping people locked up. The average Michigan inmate serves 4.3 years, almost a year and a half longer than the national average. We are locking them up, and going broke doing so. We’re spending an average of $34,000 a year to keep each of our forty-three thousand inmates behind bars. 

To be fair to the Department of Corrections, it could be worse. Six years ago, there were fifty-one thousand inmates. If that were still the case, and if the department had not privatized food service and adopted other cost savings, the figure would be close to three billion.

But what we are spending is too much, and one courageous and conservative state representative is trying to do something about it. Joe Haveman, a Republican from Holland, is one of a number of lawmakers interested in possibly shortening sentences.

Village hopes a private prison brings jobs, money
Flickr user Still Burning / Creative Commons

Michigan’s inmates stay in prison longer than those in any of the 35 states Pew Research Center studied in 2012.

For Monica Jahner, that meant spending 28 years of her life behind bars. She was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder in 1978. No one died in her case.

But Jahner doesn’t see herself as a victim. She says she spent those 28 years in prison trying to improve her life and the lives of fellow inmates.

“I got my degree and, you know, I did a lot while I was there. I didn’t just sit around. I fought and helped to get education for the women,” Jahner said. “My journey was a good one because I made a lot of impact on the system, I think.”

Jahner got her first chance at parole ten years into her sentence. But right around that same time, a Michigan convict on parole confessed to killing four teenage girls. Jahner says that made it nearly impossible for people like her to get in front of the parole board.

It was another 18 years before she walked out the front door of Scott Correctional Facility in Plymouth after a string of parole battles.

She now works with former inmates and parolees to get their lives on track, and advocates for prisoners who are still inside.

“I go door to door to go out there and let people see you can give people a second chance,” Jahner. “When they find out I go to prison, I mean, literally heads spin around.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder are considering changes to prison sentencing guidelines that were last updated about 15 years ago.

The Detroit News reports the idea is driven in part by a desire to reduce the state Department of Corrections budget, which exceeds $2 billion.

A state sentencing guidelines study was launched last month by the bipartisan Michigan Law Review Commission.

One of the biggest challenges we face as a state and as a nation is how do we keep paroled prisoners from becoming repeat offenders and winding up back behind bars?

Solid evidence points to postsecondary education as one of the major keys to helping former inmates build productive lives after parole.

After many years without any funding for prisoners to be able to access higher education, the Michigan Department of Corrections has gotten a one million dollar grant to launch postsecondary educational programs and vocational training to a small number of inmates who are near parole.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Legislation in Michigan House could cap FOIA fees

There is new legislation up for initial hearing this week in Lansing. It is a response to local governments and state agencies charging hefty fees for people to see government records.

"One of the bills would limit most charges for requests filed under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to no more than 10 cents a page. Another would create a Michigan Open Government Commission to hear challenges to government denials of information requests," Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

Lansing City Council vs. Mayor Virg Bernero

The Lansing city council will vote tonight on a budget for next year. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports that "the vote will likely put the council at odds with Mayor Virg Bernero." 

The mayor wants to add annual fees for city water and electricity customers. Conversely, the council wants to make several spending cuts including eliminating several new positions the mayor wants to add to the city's payroll. Mayor Virg Bernero will have until Thursday to veto parts of the city budget he doesn’t like. The Lansing city council has until early June to try to override the mayor’s expected vetoes.

Higher education opportunities piloted in Michigan prisons

"After years without funding for prisoners to access higher education, the Michigan Department of Corrections is immersed in several efforts to teach community college courses and vocational training in-house to a small number of inmates who are near parole. Michigan will join a pilot project that hopes to gather enough evidence to possibly resurrect publicly supported postsecondary education in prisons nationally," reports The Detroit News.

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