"We all grumble about the weather, but nothing is done about it."
Mark Twain is often credited with making that statement. Historians, however, believe that it probably originated with Charles Dudley Warner.
I’m reminded of that cynical comment today as I review Paul Egan’s fine story, published last week in the Detroit Free Press, about possible class action on behalf of inmates housed in Michigan’s only prison for women.
I’m checking through our daily email dispatches, speeches I have given, messages posted on our blog site…we’ve been complaining about these things for years! A lot of agreement with what we said, but nothing ever happened.
From the moment I got into this business, I’ve been yipping about the way we treat women in prison. It’s shameful!
Granted, for a while the US Department of Justice responded to our complaint about abuse of mentally ill inmates in the acute unit. An investigation continued, on and off again, for a few years. But we saw no strong action and no major change.
The ACLU loved all the smuggled affidavits we had from whistleblowers regarding those abuses of mentally ill women, and wrote a lengthy letter of protest to the prison and the Michigan Department of Corrections. After that, silence.
A former employee even spoke out…but then nothing more.
But now, finally, something is happening! It’s long overdue.
Claiming that getting locked up at Women’s Huron Valley is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the US Constitution, Birmingham attorney Lynn Shecter has gone to court!
She lists the things that we hear regularly from our friends in that facility. We’ve been hearing reports for years about severe overcrowding, lack of proper and adequate ventilation, and inadequate space for recreation and exercise.
There are more than 2,200 women in the state prison system, all housed in one facility in Ypsilanti. The department contends that the capacity of that facility is 2,400, and that there is no overcrowding. The women will tell you otherwise.
In addition to poor ventilation and inadequate activity space, these existing conditions “deprive WHV inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” contends prison designer and architect Randy Atlas. And clinical psychologist Ellen Koch insists that these conditions are "aggravating mental health problems such as depression and a surge in suicide attempts."
Now it’s up to a US District Judge whether to dismiss the lawsuit or certify it as a class action.
While the Michigan Attorney General’s Office is resisting this action, friends and loved ones of the more than 2,200 women are cheering on attorney Shecter from the sidelines.
And so are we!