Good for Oklahoma! Now it’s Michigan’s turn!
It's time to stop pardoning turkeys and start granting clemency to people
Sister Helen Prejean
462 Oklahomans walked out of prison the other day. It was the largest single-day commutation in United States history.
It’s an interesting story…one of the bright shining lights in the darkness of mass incarceration. Back in 2016 Oklahomans voted to reclassify simple drug possession as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. Later, the state Legislature made that change retroactive. That left all kinds of people behind bars who didn’t belong there.
Now, it’s Michigan’s turn.
Our new Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has already taken steps to improve the lot of young offenders. Now it’s time to consider the old-timers. We have a ton of them who no longer belong in our Michigan prison system.
I’ll give you four categories (there are more), and I’ll just grab four examples from our case files (there are many more!).
1. Medically frail inmates (approx. 800 of them)
Herbert Collins, 78, is in terrible health, and has served 51 years
Willie Jeffries, 84, has served 36 years and is battling cancer
3. Prisoners serving long indeterminate sentences (approx. 250 of them)
Troy Chapman, 55, is serving a sentence of 60-90 years.
He will be 82 before he becomes eligible for parole!
4. Inmates who’ve been in a long time, serving life without parole
Steven Benjamin, 70, has served 45 years…has an exemplary record!
Here you have four men from our client list of several thousand, and these four men have served more than 165 years. And if you think the average cost of housing a prisoner applies to these guys, guess again. They’re aging and their health is deteriorating. The cost is double and triple.
Governors have the right to grant clemency for all kinds of criminal activity. Says NYU law professor and clemency expert Rachel Barkow: “If you really want to get robust clemency, governors have to accept the fact it will never be risk-free. And so what they really need to do is explain to constituents why it’s worth doing.” The…hope is, she says, that “as governors get experience actually granting clemency, they’ll see it’s a pretty meaningful thing that they can do. They can completely transform someone’s life.”
Many deserve and should be granted clemency in Michigan. Our new governor can transform lives. Lots of them!
Now is the time.