prisons

Politics & Government
8:44 pm
Fri August 3, 2012

Detroit Congressman wants to make "ban the box" federal law

Hansen Clarke

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.

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Law
3:44 pm
Sun July 22, 2012

Cops, former inmates unite

Detroit officers
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.

Law
4:47 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

State laws allowing life sentences without parole for juveniles unconstitutional

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.

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Politics
6:36 pm
Thu May 24, 2012

State to convert Detroit prison to holding facility for parole violators

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.

Commentary
10:52 am
Thu April 19, 2012

Commentary: Push to privatize some prison services

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.

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Politics
5:08 pm
Thu April 12, 2012

ACLU condemns invasive strip searches at women's prison

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.

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Arts/Culture
5:13 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

Prison-themed gift shop to open near the old Jackson State Prison

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).

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Crime
1:15 pm
Thu March 15, 2012

Supreme Court cases could determine the fate of Michigan's youngest criminals

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.

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Political Roundup
5:02 pm
Thu March 8, 2012

State politics and public safety

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.

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Commentary
10:55 am
Wed February 8, 2012

Prison Blues

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.

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Seeking Change
6:59 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Teaching Michigan prisoners the art of meditation

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.

Breaking
6:57 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Iran sentences Michigan man to death in CIA case

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.

Politics
11:41 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

Wyoming to consider zoning limits on where parolees may live

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.”

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Crime
8:16 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Tasers may soon end up in Michigan prisons

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.

Culture of Class
10:09 am
Tue November 22, 2011

Debtors pay... or stay in jail

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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Politics
3:24 pm
Wed September 28, 2011

State to close Mound prison

State prison officials say Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit will close in January as part of a broader effort to cut costs by more than $60 million a year.

Mound will be the 15th correctional facility to close in about five years. The state’s prison population is down about 8,300 inmates since March of 2007.

One of the reasons Mound was chosen for closure is because there are other facilities that are relatively close by, says Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan:

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Investigative
6:00 am
Mon August 22, 2011

“Postcard only” rules at county jails in Michigan attracting protests, lawsuits

Postcard sized protest sign in Muskegon last April aims to demonstrate the policy's limitations.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Mail policies at several county jails across the state are becoming more restrictive, mainly to save money. It’s causing an outcry from inmates’ family and friends, and people who advocate for prisoners’ rights.

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Prison
2:50 pm
Sun August 21, 2011

Corrections boss: mental health care not core job

About a quarter of Michigan's 43,000 state prisoners are mentally ill, and new Michigan Corrections Director Dan Heyns says he wants to shift responsibility for their treatment from his department to other agencies.
    

Heyns says in an interview with The Detroit News that his department "has had a kind of mission creep over the years." He says the department needs to return to its original mission.
    

Commentary
11:29 am
Mon May 23, 2011

Not Guilty As Charged

How many of the forty-four thousand prisoners sitting in our state’s prisons do you think are actually innocent of the charges which put them there? None? A handful? Maybe … one percent?

I talked recently with a man who is an expert on this, and what he told me was absolutely shocking. Jim Petro was Ohio’s Attorney General for four years, until he left office to make an unsuccessful run for governor in 2006.

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State Budget
1:01 pm
Sun April 24, 2011

Corrections Department budget may see big cuts

Michigan Senate Republicans say the Department of Corrections could save tens of millions of dollars by making sure all prisoners are parole-eligible as soon as they have served their minimum sentences.  

Republican state Senator John Proos says that means making sure prisoners have taken their necessary prisoner reentry programs in time for their parole hearings. 

 “Are they getting the proper education so they can be eligible for parole at their earliest release date? The longer we keep somebody past earliest release date, the most costly it is to us."

Proos says additional savings can be found in the department by privatizing food services and mental health services for prisoners. Proos chairs the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Corrections budget. The panel approved a spending plan that is well below Governor Rick Snyder’s proposal.

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