Monday, February 19, 2007

Prisons, People, Problems

1911 postcard from the Michigan State Prison in Jackson -- Message handwritten front and back: "This is where I'm taking my meals--but don't you tell I told you. Here today--but gone tomorrow--so cheer up. Took the wrong car and landed here. Tell Tim 'hello' for me. This is the card I got in Jackson."

Last week, 60 Minutes broadcast a piece about a mentally-ill Jackson inmate who lost his life to dehydration and hypothermia after 17 hours in restraints. (South Bend Tribune, Report on Mentally Ill in US Prisons)

This week, Governor Granholm proposed a balanced budget plan that includes the release of certain prisoners to reduce expenditures. (Granholm takes heat for plan to release prisoners, Lansing State Journal ) Her plan would release 3400 "low-risk" inmates. These include elderly, non-violent inmates, medically unfit inmates, and inmates likely to be deported. Legislators would also be asked to change sentencing guidelines for offenders committing nonviolent crimes to reduce the inmate population of embezzlers, thieves, and drug users from 40% to 20%. And the idea is receiving predictable responses from many sides. The Senate Majority Leader has dismissed the proposal as "fiscally irresponsible." A prisoner advocate is pleased with the proposal. Lobbyists for privatizing see another lucrative option. As usual, there is no easy answer here, but there is room for a bi-partisan collaboration on behalf of the future of Michigan. All that's needed is some vision and thinking beyond the usual partisan scripts. And perhaps, a prayer.