Sunday, July 6, 2014

Michigan's forgotten prisoners

The Lord himself...will never leave you or forsake you...do not be discouraged.

I'm sure that these words from Moses to Joshua, as quoted in Deuteronomy 31, have been a comfort to millions of people over the years.

They came to my mind over the weekend as HFP deals with a little-known problem in the Michigan prison system: the plight of prisoners with long, indeterminate sentences.

The situation is this: Some insensitive judges, perhaps hoping to make a statement, handed down sentences far worse than life in prison. Here are two examples. My friend Troy Chapman, instead of receiving a parolable life sentence, was given 60 to 90 years. Another prisoner whom I don't know, but whose situation was revealed in an AP story this weekend, is Leon Echols. His sentence was 75 to 150 years!

And here's the problem. Thanks to an opinion by the Michigan Attorney General in 1986, these guys are not eligible for parole until they serve their minimum. This means that Chapman, who is 50 and who has already served 29 years; and Echols, who is 43 and has served nearly 25 years, will both be in their 80s by the time they get to meet with the Parole Board. Lifers, on the other hand, after serving x number of years in prison, get a crack at the Parole Board every 5 years.

Both of these inmates have tried unsuccessfully to get their sentences commuted by the Governor, which he certainly could do. But why should he? A commutation would do little to reduce Michigan's shamefully high prison population, and on the other hand it definitely could damage his political reputation. Being tough on crime pleases voters.

We don't know how many of these prisoners with long, indeterminate sentences are buried and forgotten in Michigan prisons, but you can be sure that Troy and Leon aren't the only two!

Perhaps AP Writer Ed White's story, published in various Michigan newspapers this weekend, is a start. But we mustn't stop there. Corrective legislation is needed. HFP is going to do its part. You can do yours, as well. Simply passing this piece along to someone of influence might make a difference.

We know the Lord won't leave these guys or forsake them.

Will we?

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