prisons

Simon Brass / Flickr

About 400 food service state employees may soon be out of work at Michigan’s prisons.

That’s after Michigan reversed its previous decision NOT to privatize the contract.

The original company bids did not meet the state benchmark of at least 5 percent savings.

Frannie Shepherd-Bates is a Shakespeare geek. She is also executive artistic director of the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company in Detroit.

Twice a week, Shepherd-Bates drives from metro Detroit to the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, which is about 10 miles south of Ann Arbor, to share her love of Shakespeare.

PCAP

On March 19, the 18th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan prisoners will open at the Duderstadt Center on the North Campus of the University of Michigan.

The exhibition is a extension of the Prison Creative Arts Project spearheaded by University of Michigan Professor Buzz Alexander and is the largest exhibition of prisoner art in the country, containing some 300 works by over 200 artists.

Founded in 1990, PCAP "facilitates the opportunity to create original works of art in correctional facilities, urban high schools, and communities across the state of Michigan."

The project is affiliated with the Department of English Language and Literature, Alexander's department.

"When we come in (to prisons) we are in awe and we bring respect to the artists," Alexander said. "This year there are 428 works of art in the show that prisoners have been preparing for all year."

Alexander noted that the exhibition is a way for the artists to gain visibility. One artist talked with a PCAP facilitator about how it's a bridge that connects her to the outside world.

Simon Brass / Flickr

Michigan will not privatize nearly $350 million in prisoner health care and food costs, keeping intact nearly 1,700 state workers' jobs.

State Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan told The Associated Press on Friday that none of three contracts out for bid would have achieved the necessary 5 percent savings as required by state rules.

Bidding out more of the prison health system could have been the largest privatization of state government services in Michigan history.

DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan appeals court says it has no authority to intervene in the judgment of then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who agreed to change a prisoner's no-parole sentence but then changed her mind before leaving office in 2010.

The court said Friday it must respect the "clear and exclusive constitutional power" granted to Michigan governors in commutation matters.

isabellacounty.org

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit against Isabella County.

It says the county jail violates the constitutional rights of inmates with cells that are too crowded, and too few opportunities to exercise.

The federal lawsuit also says the jail discriminates against female inmates because they can’t participate in work assignments that could reduce their sentences.   

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta filed the lawsuit.

ACLU

Michigan jail and prison policies that place teenage offenders in solitary confinement are getting criticized in a new report.

“Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States,” is based on research in U.S. jails and prisons in Michigan and four other states: Colorado, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania

Ken Mayer / flickr

The Muskegon Correctional Facility has reopened and will employ 240 people.

That is freeing up space for inmates in other parts of the state.

Michigan began closing prisons in 2007 as part of budget cuts. The Muskegon Correctional Facility was shut down in 2009.

Now the 1,300 bed, medium-security facility is open again and the state has begun transferring inmates from other places—mostly from the Ryan Correction Facility in Detroit.

Russ Marlan is a Department of Corrections spokesman.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - More and more Michigan ex-cons are killing people after they leave prison, a problem that the state Department of Corrections and its employees union blame on each other.

The Detroit Free Press says 88 probationers or parolees committed 95 homicides in 2010 through Aug. 31, 2012. Ex-cons under state supervision killed 21 people in 2010, 38 in 2012 and 36 in the first eight months of 2012.

The emergency was declared this week when the number of inmates remained above 700 for seven days in a row. The jail’s capacity is only 580 inmates.

That means state law now requires the jail to release about 175 inmates in the next two weeks. The number needs to get to 555 within 12 days; if the sheriff’s department can’t do that it’ll create a list to hand over to judges to decide.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A public employees’ union says it will offer a counter-proposal if the state goes ahead with plans to privatize prison health care.

Governor Rick Snyder has ruled out privatizing entire prisons. But corrections officials think there may be savings to be had if the state turns to private companies to provide health care services.

Ray Holman is with UAW Local 6000, which represents many of the corrections employees who would be affected. He said the union will offer its own plan to save taxpayers money by reducing the costs of management and outsourcing.

“We believe we can beat any private company. We can do the job better, more effectively, and we want to be given the opportunity to prove it,” said Holman.

Holman said the union believes it can deliver the same services at a lower cost than other bidders. Those services include inmate health clinics, psychiatric services and counseling, psychological evaluations for parole candidates, and record-keeping.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Lower lake levels-- the good and bad news

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard says releasing more than 200 prisoners from the overcrowded  County Jail could have been avoided,  if judges had used alternative sentencing.

He  tells The Detroit News he sent a letter to judges earlier this month, notifying them of the "jail emergency and asking for cooperation to help avoid it."

Michigan law requires sentence reductions if prisoners don't pose a high risk.

Bouchard says beds are being used by inmates who don't need to be in jail, and could have been punished differently, avoiding the problem.

Lead in text: 
A fascinating story about a last second reversal by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. At the end of her term as governor in 2010, Granholm had signed an order commuting Matthew Makowski's sentence of life without parole. Makowski was convicted of first degree murder for setting up a robbery of a co-worker in 1988. But after she was contacted by the victim's family, Granholm reversed her order. Now lawyers are arguing whether she had the authority to rescind her original order.
Law
user BotMultichill / Wikimedia Commons

The Michigan Court of Appeals says women who were sexually abused in state prisons must pay the victim restitution and child support they owe before collecting settlement money from their class-action suit.

A three-judge appeals court panel ruled today that an order protecting the names of the women who sued should remain in effect.

But the court also says that where there's a conflict between protecting the women's identities and making sure that they pay victim restitution and child support, the courts must make sure the debts get paid.

Detroit Congressman Hansen Clarke has introduced a bill that supporters say would make it easier for ex-felons to get jobs.

The bill would prohibit employers from asking about a job applicants’ criminal record until they’ve made that person a conditional job offer.

So-called “ban the box” ordinances are already on the books in Detroit, other cities and a few states.

Flickr user Miss Lauralee

A new program in Detroit is taking a creative approach to helping former inmates improve their lives. That approach involves pairing two groups of people who often don't trust one another: former inmates and police officers.

Jessica Taylor came up with the idea for the mentorship program called New Beginnings. She’s Executive Director of Chance for Life, a non-profit that helps inmates transition back into the community after they've been released.

As part of the mentorship program, officers drive the men to counseling appointments and recovery programs. They help the men obtain birth certificates and social security cards. The pairs also take part in social activities, like going to ball games.

At first, Taylor says it was a tough sell to both groups. But after a few months of spending time together, she says the men consider each other friends, and some even consider one another family.

Taylor says if you want to make communities safer, you have to engage the people who make them unsafe, and you have to involve the police. She hopes to expand the program in the near future.

The U.S. Supreme Court
User kconnors / MorgueFile.com

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down state laws that allow juveniles to be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. The ruling says life without parole for crimes that occurred when a felon was younger than 18 is excessive and violates the Eighth Amendment.

Michigan is one of several states that allowed juveniles to be sentenced to life without parole. The state has more than 350 people in state prisons serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles.

The state Department of Corrections plans to close two prisons and convert one of them to a holding facility for alleged parole violators.         

Prison officials say there’s a shortage of housing for felons suspected of violating parole.

“Every day, there are situations with those parolees where we have to put them into custody while we investigate circumstances surrounding alleged parole violations," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan. "So, right now, we either put them in a van and drive them back to our reception center, or we let them walk out of the parole office.”

 The Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit and an inmate re-entry facility in Caro will be closed. The department will also re-open a shuttered prison in Muskegon as part of the shakeup.

 The shakeup will close the last remaining prison in Detroit, and it will force inmates in the facility to be moved out of the city. Detroit lawmakers say that's a bad idea.

 “Just because people go to prison doesn’t mean that they should be disconnected from their families and support systems that will help them become rehabilitated and better citizens," said Rep. Fred Durhal (D-Deiroit). "Because that’s what this thing is about – is punish them for the crimes that they’ve done, but not cut them off from family and other relatives.”

Durhal says the two prisons that are closing are two of the state’s newest correctional facilities. Corrections officials say the shakeup will cost another $10 million a year. But they say it’s less expensive than other options for dealing with parole violators.

Reporters were caught off base yesterday when they learned that Governor Rick Snyder was not in Lansing as they thought, but in Afghanistan, visiting the troops. The secrecy was understandably needed for security reasons, and the trip is the sort of morale-boosting thing that governors and other state officials traditionally do.

But it was very telling when the governor reported on what the soldiers wanted to talk about. Besides the surging Detroit Tigers and fading Red Wings, the chief thing on their minds seemed to be jobs.

Michigan Department of Corrections

 The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing Michigan’s only women’s prison for conducting invasive strip searches.

The ACLU says the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility uses invasive body cavity searches after family visits, whether or not they believe a woman is hiding contraband.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense before admitting them to jails.

user whatimeantosay / morgueFile

The city of Jackson is capitalizing on its long history as the site of a state prison.

In addition to guided prison tours, visitors can now buy prison-related items at the city’s new prison gift shop.

When the Jackson State Prison closed in 2007, it was turned into a live-work space for artists known as the Armory Arts Village. One of the women who lives there, Judy Gail Krasnow, gives guided tours of the historic prison.

She says lots of tourists asked about a gift shop, which didn’t exist. So she created one in the Art 634 building across from the old prison, and built it to look like an old prison cell. Krasnow says the Old Prison Gift Shop was "modeled after the cells at the first prison, which had brick walls, and the doors were those thick, iron bars."

Krasnow plans to sell art made by current and former prisoners through the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).

Andrew Bardwell / wikimedia commons

Michigan has one of the country's highest numbers of "juvenile lifers"---prisoners sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as minors---359 total.

That includes six who were only 14 when they committed their crimes.

These numbers come from an in-depth report from John Barnes at MLive.com.

Barnes profiled those six, including TJ Tremble, who has spent half his life, 14 years, in a state prison following a murder conviction. Tremble has no hope of release because of a mandatory life sentence.

Now, for the youngest of young offenders at least, there could be a path toward release. That's because of a pair of upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases involving young offenders.

Gov. Rick Snyder delivered a special address on public safety this week. His plan calls for fighting crime in some of the state’s most violent cities.

The 34 point plan includes hiring 180 additional state troopers, increasing staffing at crime labs, decreasing urban blight, and linking welfare benefits to school attendance.

Prison Blues

Feb 8, 2012

Michigan is one of only a handful of states that spends more on prisons than it does on higher education. This is a disgrace, and isn’t doing very much for either our budget or our future.

The reasons for this are both complex and simple. The societal reasons are complex, of course, and have been addressed at length by people more knowledgeable than I.

The technical reasons are far simpler.  Thirty years ago, there were only about 13,000 inmates in Michigan prisons. Five years ago, the figure had ballooned to more than 51,000.

missmillions / flickr

You might remember the "Three Things" series we aired in 2010… we asked people from all walks of life what we could all do to help the state.  We wanted to air some positive stories in a time when many in the state were facing economic hardship. In 2011, the series morphed into “What’s Working.”  We highlighted various initiatives and projects that were trying to have a positive effect on the state...

Well, for 2012, we’re going to talk with people who are standing apart from the crowd, being and making the kind of change they want to see in the state.  Throughout the year you’ll hear from people making waves and going against the grain.  We’ll ask them why they’re working so hard on their projects, and try to see things from their perspective. This morning we speak with Reverend Sokuzan Robert Brown. He teaches meditation in Michigan prisons.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Share your story here.

Iran's state radio says a court has convicted a Michigan man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death.

Monday's report said Amir Mirzaei Hekmati was also convicted of trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism.

The report didn't say when the verdict was issued. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Mich., has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

The 28-year-old was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin.

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming is considering changes that would limit where people paroled from jail or prison could live.

Most parolees go home when they’re released from jail. Those who don’t have a safe place to reintegrate into society are housed through reentry programs. People are usually on parole for two years or less(depending on violations).

Police Chief James Carmody said he supports efforts to house and rehabilitate parolees from Wyoming. But he’s concerned too many state and federal parolees are being concentrated in a couple of motels in his city.

“We’re just saying the concentration is really beyond our ability to control and maintain,” Carmody said. “We can only handle so many and so much. Maybe it’s time to look at spreading that out a little bit and letting the rest of the community engage in (the discussion) as well.”

The state corrections department plans to test the use of tasers in four state prisons.   

The pilot program is intended to see if the electro-shock devices can be effective when dealing with unruly and uncooperative prison inmates. 

Andy Potter is the vice president of the state prison guards union. He says the  union has wanted to arm guards with tasers for years.  

Potter says "being able to utilize them when an inmate is being disruptive just makes sense.”     

The American Civil Liberties Union is raising some concerns about the plan. The ACLU says the corrections department should implement clear guidelines for the use of tasers so that they are not misused.  

Tasers are used by many law enforcement agencies, but their use has been criticized by groups who point to incidents of abuse and even death.

Debtor's Prison

When you step into a Michigan courtroom, crime is supposed to be crime, regardless of social class. But whether you go home or go to jail  sometimes depends on whether you have money.

Let’s say you’re one of the many thousands of people in Michigan who’s unemployed. Or, you’re working in a job that doesn’t cover your bills. Like your rent or mortgage. Or, like child support.

And if you don’t have the money to pay those bills,  you might end up in court. Selesa Likine did. Her husband divorced her. He got custody of the kids.  She lost her home. Likine, who had worked as a realtor, was ordered to pay $1,100 a month in child support. She couldn’t pay it  and the court was not allowed to hear why. So she spent 43 days in the Oakland County Jail.

“The jury in the case never heard that during the period when she wasn’t paying the child support, she was institutionalized with schizo-affective disorder, was declared totally disabled by the Social Security Administration, lost her realtors’ license, was unable to work, and was subsisting on disability income,” says David Moran, co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

Moran took over Likine’s Case. In October, Moran and the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Michigan Supreme Court for a new trial. They say what happened to Likine is no different than a debtor’s prison – sort of like Dickensian days, when poor people who owed money were thrown into jail.

Likine, who’s in her 40s, lives with her mother now. She takes medicine for her mental illness and says she's stable. But she’s not optimistic about her future. She doesn’t think anyone will want to hire her because she’s a felon.

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