Thursday, May 22, 2014

Some thoughts on prisons in the U.P.

Pete Martel raised an interesting point in a recent speech. The representative from the American Friends Service Committee was addressing a group of seniors in Holland. He wondered out loud why the Michigan Department of Corrections opted to close one of the Detroit prisons, when it came to down-sizing, instead of one in the Upper Peninsula.

We know that legislators and voters in the UP are opposed to closing any of the prisons up there (we have 8 of them!) because they provide jobs. In fact, the MDOC is a major employer in those communities. So politically it would be unwise to close a northern Michigan prison. But how much sense does it make to keep them up and running, otherwise?

To answer that question you must acknowledge several points here---
80% of prisoners and their families are very poor
The heaviest population in the state is in the southeast sector
Thus, most of the state's prisoners come from that part of the state
This means that many of the prisoners would be African American
Most local prison employees in the U.P. would be white.

Perhaps the most serious problem is not that the staff will be mostly or all white up there, and the prisoners sent from down below will be mostly black...but that is, in itself, a problem.

But here's the real issue for the poor black folks in the Detroit area who have a son or father incarcerated in the UP---
The prison in Newberry is 350 miles away
The prison in Munising is 400 miles away
The prison in Marquette is 450 miles away
The prison in Baraga is 500 miles away
The prison in Marenisco is 600 miles away!

So the poor prisoner who gets shipped up there finds a staff that probably cannot relate to him and his culture, and he winds up with little or no family visitation simply because the facilities are too far away. Poor people can't take that kind of time, don't have transportation that reliable, and can't afford the fuel and lodging costs.

It's way past time that we consider inmates as just a number, just a statistic. They're people, and they need family and friends and understanding just as much as we do.

Jesus said so.


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