Friday, August 7, 2009

Michigan's shameful prison system

The Obama administration has announced major steps to improve our nation's shameful network of prisons that house immigrants. The New York Times says the sprawling network of ill-managed jails is rife with reports of abuse, injury and preventable death.

And then there is the State of Michigan. Now that prisons are being closed because of budget problems, prisoners are being shoe-horned into existing facilities. But here in the Great Lakes State we have heard no announcements from our administration about plans to improve this shameful network of prisons.

Mr. L, who lives in the Straits Correctional Facility up north, has spent time in the law library, to determine just how his living conditions compare to those guaranteed by the constitution's 8th Amendment. He concludes, without surprise, that his rights are being violated. As if anyone in Michigan really cares.

He is currently being warehoused, he points out, with 139 other prisoners in a housing unit designed for 80. His shared cube (designed for 4 men) is currently divided among 7 prisoners, and the word is that soon the number will be 8. Thus he is forced to live in less than 12 square feet of personal space, whereas the courts have determided that the minimum should be 60 square feet, and anything less would constitute a denial of an inmate's basic human needs.

This overcrowding, claims Mr. L., dilutes other constitutionally required services so that they, too, fall below the minimum 8th Amendment standards: ventilation, lighting, excessive noise, healthcare and the spread of communicable disease. In his housing unit, Mr. L. points out, the 140 inmates are forced to share 6 showers! That's 11 showers short of the original requirement for that housing unit.

Meanwhile, Mr. L. contends that the MDOC continues to spend money on upgrades such as fences, gating systems, and fiber optic security improvements.

As long as cruel and unusual punishment does not directly affect the taxpayer, we suspect that few Michiganders care, and even fewer will consider doing anything about it.

Doug Tjapkes, President
P.O. Box 687
Grand Haven, MI 49417

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