I’ve taken some time before responding to the new prisoner mail regulations. It’s easy to throw darts at the Michigan Department of Corrections. It’s far more complicated (but certainly more productive) to offer positive ideas.
I’m going to do a series of blogs under the theme RADICAL PROPOSAL, and I’m going to do my best to avoid argumentative rhetoric. I believe we have the credentials to speak out. Our Michigan case load had exceeded 1,000 by the first of this year. HFP has worked with well over 600 inmates in 2017 alone! To quote a popular TV commercial: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
The first in this series is about the new prison mail policy.
The nation-wide opioid crisis crosses all levels of society, and the prison systems are no exception. Well aware of the drug problem in Michigan prisons, the Department of Corrections has taken radical steps to change the way mail is coming into each facility. The Department recently handed out the list of things that people may no longer do, much like the Ten Commandments…no explanations or reasons given. Understandably, prisoners were blind-sided.
Within minutes everyone began speaking out: prisoners, families, friends, advocates, and the media.
Our RADICAL PROPOSAL #1: Listen to prisoners! Not only now, but especially when making these decisions.
Wise wardens in the state, for example, pay close attention to what is discussed in the Warden’s Forums, which are made up of prisoners and staff alike. They listen, because they know it’s a way to keep a thumb on the pulse of what’s going on.
A small panel of consulting inmates, black and white, men and women, old and young, could have been helpful in hashing out new mailing regulations. If there is a good explanation as to why only two colors of ink can be used any more, why Valentines may not be sent in red envelopes any more, or why children cannot send crayon drawings any more---the advisory panel would have placed their stamp on the final decision. That, along with a properly formulated explanation, would have done wonders to avoid the tsunami the MDOC is now facing.
We’ve been impressed with changes under the new MDOC Director. The Heidi Washington regime has proved---to the chagrin of “tough on crime” legislators and “hardline” MDOC staffers---that it is concerned about recidivism rates and it is interested in preparing prisoners for re-entry. We’ve seen a marked increase, not only in educational programs, but also in vocational training as well as an expansion of positive program availability.
Our bet is that they would be surprised to learn just how much prisoners know about this drug problem (drugs are coming in on both sides of the fence), and how effective and helpful their suggestions might be.
We speak from experience: These people are savvy. It’s time to listen to them.