All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Monday, July 29, 2019

He's not a person, he's a prisoner!

Pastor Nate was making the point that all humans are created in the image of God. That’s when he made reference to the shameful period in US history when we had the Three-Fifths Compromise. The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise reached among state delegates during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention…a plan to count three out of every five slaves as people for this purpose. In other words, the votes of 5 blacks totaled 3.

Today, I’m accusing the State of Michigan of reducing the status of prisoners to the “non-person” level.

Blacks were not three-fifths of a person back in 1787, just as prisoners are not “non-persons” today in Michigan.

Our state refuses to allow prisoners the right to file requests under the state’s FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT, and that’s a step in the wrong direction. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)---signed into law in 1976---provides for public access to most records of public bodies. Here’s how it was originally worded:

It is the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees… .

This was a huge help for prisoners, many of whom cannot afford lawyers. With information gleaned from visits to prison law libraries, and documents obtained through FOIA requests, inmates were able to prepare much of their own legal work. But then came the complaints. Some prisoners were abusing the system, and all of this was costing the state money.

I’m making a very long story very short here, but in 1994 the state legislature’s knee-jerk reaction to those complaints was an amendment to the bill, so that it would read:

  It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information, etc., etc.

Among those strongly disagreeing with the state’s position was Dan Manville, Clinical Professor of Law & Director, Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University’s School of Law.

“There’s always some people who will abuse anything that exists,” said Manville. “We have legislators that have affairs, and then they force their staff members to lie, but we never see the legislature imposing restrictions so that married people cannot get elected to the legislature. What we’re asking for is the use of common sense.”  

In researching the subject, our staff discovered this: Michigan appears to be the only state refusing to allow prisoners the right to file FOIA requests!

It’s past time to remedy this situation. As Professor Manville puts it, it’s time for some “common sense.” Time to prove that, here in Pure Michigan, prisoners are persons.

1 comment:

Louise Reichert said...

Once again,spot on! Some of the nicest prisoners I've known, really ARE persons!