Michigan’s parole policies waste money, need reform

This comes from the Detroit Free Press

Barbara Levine and Michael LaFaive,  December 13, 2014

Michigan spends nearly 20% of its general-fund dollars locking people up. A portion of that money could be better spent elsewhere, such as on education, roads or pension reform.

Despite cost-containment efforts, the Michigan Department of Corrections spends $2 billion a year, more than $1.6 billion of which is spent directly on operating prisons. If all this spending improved public safety, it would be worth it. However, it does not. One way to reduce spending without compromising public safety is through sentencing and parole reforms.

Michigan sends fewer people convicted of felonies to prison than most other states because we have been a national leader in diverting those convicted of serious offenses into community-based programs. As a result, nearly 70% of our prisoners are serving time for assault offenses. What drives our prison population is how long we keep people locked up, compared to other states.

In its 2012 report, “Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return of Longer Prison Terms,”the Pew Center reported that Michigan prisoners serve much longer terms for comparable offenses than prisoners in other states. Michigan’s average length of stay is nearly 17 months longer for prisoners overall and 30 months longer for assault offenders.

Read the rest here.

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Mentally Ill Inmates At Michigan Women’s Prison Report They Were Hog Tied Naked, Deprived Of Water

This shocking situation has been going on for a while now. When is MI DOC going to act and take its responsibility on the treatment of people inside its prisons, male and female, especially those who need care and not even more punishment?
From ThinkProgress, Sept 8, 2014
By: Nicole Flatow
Mentally ill at Michigan’s only women’s prison are deprived of food and water for days, and even “hog tied” naked as punishment, according to the accounts of several witnesses compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
Witness reports include particular abuse against mentally ill inmates who are placed in solitary confinement. Inmates reported that the water had been shut off in confinement units, while guards rejected inmates’ water requests for days. At least one inmate who reported this treatment was taken to the hospital last month after she was found non-responsive in her cell.
In another instance, an inmate who was “crying naked on the floor and unable to move-because her feet were cuffed to her hands behind her back” was told that “her fellow prisoner would have to stay like that for two hours or more because she had not learned how to ‘behave’,” according to a letter from the ACLU of Michigan to the Department of Corrections, two University of Michigan law professors, and several other advocacy organizations. “The guard was referring to a young woman with serious mental illness who is unable to control her behavior unless her mental illness is properly treated.”

“According to reports we have received from multiple individuals who have witnessed these events first-hand, mentally ill inmates at Huron Valley are being treated so inhumanely that we believe many corrections experts would characterize their experience as a form of torture,” the letter states. “Witnesses have reported seeing mentally ill prisoners denied water and food, ‘hog tied’ naked for many hours, left to stand, sit, or lie naked in their own feces and urine, denied showers for days, and tasered.”

Sending juveniles to prison for life unconstitutional, federal judge rules

From: Detroit Free Press:
Jan. 30th 2013
By L.L. Brasier, Detroit Free Pree Staff Writer

A federal judge ruled unconstitutional Michigan laws that send juveniles convicted of murder to prison for life and ordered that the 350 juvenile lifers in the state have a chance at parole.

In issuing his ruling this afternoon, Judge John Corbett O’Meara noted the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that juveniles can’t be treated as adults, and as such, can’t be sentenced as adults to life behind bars.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a ruling late last year, said the decision did not apply retroactively.

O’Meara disagreed.

“Indeed, if there ever was a legal rule that should, as a matter of law and morality be given retroactive effect, it is the rule announced (by the U.S. Supreme Court), O’Meara wrote. “To hold otherwise would allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not on others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice.”

Attorney Deborah Labelle, who filed a lawsuit against the state in November 2010 on behalf of several prisoners who were sentenced as juveniles, hailed the decision.

“It is a big win for us,” she said. “As of this moment, every juvenile and those convicted as juveniles serving life are parolable.”

O’Meara ordered that Labelle submit a motion describing the criteria that the parole board will have to follow in determining parole for those behind bars. That motion is due March 1.

The issue is still being litigated in state courts, and it’s unlikely any juvenile lifers will be re-sentenced soon. The appellate court’s decision that the ruling does not apply to current prisoners is being challenged in the Michigan Supreme Court.

A spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said his office is reviewing the decision and considering options for appeal.

Read the rest here:
http://www.freep.com/article/20130130/NEWS06/130130066/Sending-juveniles-prison-life-unconstitutional-federal-judge-rules

Gabe Newland: Reduce the use of solitary confinement in Michigan prisons

From guest writer Gabe Newland in the Detroit Free Press, Feb. 1st 2013:

Gov. Rick Snyder can save lives and money by adopting Mississippi’s recent prison reforms.

Remember solitary confinement — that expensive thing the Michigan Department of Corrections does with your tax dollars? They lock almost 1,000 prisoners — hundreds of them mentally ill — inside isolated segregation cells. For days and months and years, prisoners spend 23 hours per day in these cramped cubes. Alone. Where silence screams and thoughts become voices.

Sometimes people die. Timothy Souders, a mentally ill prisoner serving one to four years, spent the last four days of his life strapped to a steel bed until he died of thirst. He was naked, soaked in his own urine.

Gov. Snyder can fix this.

Only six years ago, Mississippi held almost 1,300 prisoners in long-term segregation. Cells were like ovens, and psychotic prisoners screamed through the night. Violence spread. In response, Mississippi tried something different: It reduced its solitary population by 85%. Violence plummeted, behavior improved, and Mississippi saved more than $5 million per year.

How did Mississippi do it? Two key components:

• First, the state overhauled its classification system, which determines where prisoners go — minimum, medium or maximum security. Instead of isolating the worst of the worst, they’d been isolating prisoners they were mad at. And that’s expensive.

A good classification system rewards good behavior; you might move from maximum to medium security. In Mississippi, they knew how to punish but forgot to reward. And they’ve now learned an important lesson: One-way ratchets only ratchet up costs. More solitary, more money.

• Second, Mississippi began diverting mentally ill prisoners out of solitary and into mental health units. Prisoners who needed treatment got it, not punishment. And that’s smart. Isolated prisoners are more likely to hurt themselves, and they’re more likely to hurt others when released. Anti-social isolation produces anti-social behavior.

In the end, Mississippi successfully reduced the number of prisoners in isolation to about 300. That saved money, jobs and lives.

Read the rest here: http://www.freep.com/article/20130201/OPINION05/302010046/Gabe-Newland-Reduce-the-use-of-solitary-confinement-in-Michigan-prisons

DOC director gives speech on the value of justice reinvestment

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.

http://www.sentinel-standard.com/homepage/x458266337/Governor-s-Luncheon-DOC-director-headlines-annual-event

Rare federal case may put defendant on death row in Michigan

Paul Egan / The Detroit News

Detroit — Jury selection begins this morning for a type of trial rarely seen in Michigan — one in which the defendant could face the death penalty.
Timothy Dennis O’Reilly, 36, is charged with murdering Norman “Anthony” Stephens during a Dec. 14, 2001, holdup of an armored truck at the Dearborn Federal Credit Union.

Michigan was the first state in the union to ban capital punishment, in 1847, but death can still be imposed in Michigan for federal capital crimes such as murder during a bank robbery.

Tony Chebatoris of Hamtramck, the last person executed in Michigan, was hanged at Milan in 1938. His crime was similar to the one O’Reilly is charged with. Chebatoris shot and killed 50-year-old truck driver Henry Porter while escaping a bank robbery in Midland in 1937.

Nobody’s been executed in the state since, though Marvin Gabrion has sat on death row at a prison in Indiana since 2002, when a federal jury in Grand Rapids sentenced him to death for the brutal murder of Rachel Timmerman. Her handcuffed and chained body, weighted with cinder blocks, was found in a lake in a national forest, making Gabrion eligible for the death penalty. Gabrion’s case is being appealed.

Now, O’Reilly is the first of three defendants in the Dearborn robbery to go to trial in front of a jury and U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts. The case wasn’t charged until 2005 and complications related to capital cases resulted in it taking longer than normal to get to trial. Since a jury must be picked on which everyone is open to the idea of capital punishment, jury selection could take close to a month — also much longer than normal. The entire trial could take three months.

Two co-defendants, Norman Herbert Duncan and Kevin C. Watson, also face possible death sentences when they go to trial.

Another defendant, Earl L. Johnson, was sentenced to life in prison after a jury convicted him of conspiracy, bank robbery, and aiding and abetting a murder.
The 2001 Dearborn robbery, which netted more than $200,000 in cash and remained unsolved for years, was the first of three similar armored truck robberies. The other two happened at a Comerica on West Chicago in Detroit in June 2003 and February 2004.

At the last robbery the guard fired back, killing robber Eddie Cromer. The other man fled, but Detroit police arrested Duncan near the scene.

About six months later, the FBI received a letter from an inmate at Ryan Correctional Facility, saying O’Reilly, an inmate there, was bragging that he, Duncan, Watson and others had committed the Dearborn robbery.

According to documents filed in the case, O’Reilly later made taped admissions after the FBI helped the inmate conceal a tape recorder inside a radio in the prison yard.

O’Reilly and Duncan had worked for Guardian Armored Security Services, the company targeted in the 2003 and 2004 robberies.
Stephens, the victim in the Dearborn case, left a wife and young children and 12 brothers and sisters.

“They didn’t give him a chance,” his sister Mary Scott said in a 2007 interview. “I just can’t explain it to you, the hurt of the whole family.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100608/METRO/6080311/Murder-suspect-faces-death-penalty-in-rare-Michigan-case#ixzz0qHoEzzgi

Former inmate speaks on CA prisoners abuse series

While reading the Sacramento Bee prison abuse series (9-10 May 2010), I was forced to recall the stretch I served in solitary confinement while incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections. The series reveals some horrible abuses of inmates in California’s prisons, many of which mirror the units we have here in Michigan.

One of the more troubling findings is the lack of redress for prisoners who have been mistreated. When a prisoner’s grievance process is meaningless, or when the grievance is simply never processed, there is no good resolution. Either the prisoner must accept the abuse or find an alternative method of registering his complaint. Often, the alternative method does not work out well.

Beginning my ten-year run in solitary, I was placed next to an inmate called “Brown Dog” who endured the “gas and a cell rush” about three times a week, mostly out of boredom. (By “gas and a cell rush,” I mean a correction officer shooting massive quantities of pepper spray into the cell, opening the door, then a rush of five or six officers – all geared up in helmets, chest protectors, shin shields, and arm padding – who would tackle, twist, and restrain the inmate.) Brown Dog had numerous sheets of paper hanging outside of his cell which I found out later listed restrictions of many sorts. He was not allowed paper in his cell. The water for his toilet/sink fixture was shut off. He was not allowed the three weekly showers everyone else was allowed. He was not allowed to go outside at all, and he was on food loaf, where everything from the meal – say, for instance, ham, yams, two slices of bread, butter, an orange, and red Kool-aid – are blended together into a puree, then baked into a “loaf”. I wondered why he would continue to cause more trouble. “I’m on detention for five more years, and I’ve got nothing better to do,” he’d tell me. Certainly, he had nothing at all to do. He was not allowed anything.

In the many years that followed, I learned how people came to dig such deep holes. Many times I saw simple problems mushroom. If a dinner tray lacked an item, the inmate would request a replacement. If the officer replaced the item, everyone was happy. Sometimes, however, the officer would not. The inmate would ask to speak to the sergeant. The officer would not tell the sergeant. So when the officer came around to pick up the trays, the inmate would refuse to return his tray in an attempt to get the sergeant up onto the cellblock. By this time, of course, the sergeant would come, but he would bring with him the rush squad and a can of pepper spray. Instead of the replacement food item, the inmate received food-loaf for seven, 14, even 30 days.

I don’t know what started Brown Dog down that long road that he traveled, but I have always wondered how many cases such as his could have been stopped if one person had attempted to solve the problem rather than simply resort to force. I don’t pretend that guards are mostly bad and inmates are mostly good. Real life is rarely as simple as that. But many of the problems that crop up in prison could be resolved if the parties involved would muster the effort to try to understand each other. Oft-times, however, those with authority simply choose force.

If we demanded better dispute resolution skills of the officials, we not only might see less need for isolation units but also better outcomes for inmates when they leave. I believe the only way we can achieve that, however, is to improve oversight of those officials we vest with so much power over inmates. The Bee investigation supports this conclusion. And if inmates found that they could achieve a reasonable solution through a grievance procedure instead of having their grievances discarded or ignored, they may choose that route instead of the gas and cell rush method.

By Peter Martel
Criminal Justice Program Associate
American Friends Service Committee
1414 Hill Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Office: 734-761-8283, ext 2