The fuse is burning. I fear a pending explosion! We can’t wait any longer.
The plight of prisoners didn’t get ranked number one in the Governor’s set of priorities, and perhaps that was explainable. People are dying of the coronavirus. Hospitals are jammed. Doctors and nurses are frustrated with equipment shortages. The President and the Governor can’t get along, or don’t want to.
But the prison situation cannot be ignored any longer.
We’re talking about 38,000 people here, all caged in Michigan’s 30 prisons. 2,000 of these people are women, all in one facility in Ypsilanti.
We started repeating some of the stories, but they’re too common now. Too many of them sound the same. In these overcrowded facilities, social distancing is almost impossible. You have people standing in med lines, eating in chow halls, sleeping in crowded cubes. Prisoners tell us that MDOC reports about plenty of soap, sanitizer and toilet paper are not true. They’re constantly running out. There are sanitizer dispensers on the wall, but they are empty. Horror stories are coming into our office at a record pace.
The President of the Corrections Officers’ union is quoted in Bridge Magazine as worrying that the virus will run rampant in one of these prisons. It’s not a far-fetched worry. Bridge quotes Michigan State University infectious disease expert Peter Gulick with our worry: “This could be an explosion waiting to happen!”
While the Department of Corrections is going to have to get a handle on policies and products, Governor Whitmer can and must make work of reducing the population.
We have nearly a hundred people in our prisons over 80 years of age, for example. We have lifers who have been in there 40 years or more. We have people whose legitimate requests for a commutation of sentence have been stacked in dormant piles on the Governor’s desk. We have people who deserve pardons. We have people who will receive parole yet this year, who could be released early. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more could be released.
We’re not suggesting that this be handled in a reckless manner. Obviously, we can’t have infected people released into society. That would just compound the problem. The Governor and the Parole Board have too much on their plates right now. It’s time for a special panel or commission, a new system. No more words. It’s time for action!
One prisoner told us: “I have repeatedly heard Corrections Officers, the 'professionals' who are supposed to represent the State of Michigan, say that Covid19 is the perfect way to reduce the prison population and help the MDOC fix its budget!”
No, there's a better way.
Pray for prisoners. Pray for staff. Pray for the Department. Pray for the Governor. Pray for solutions. Pray for quick action.
Maybe if we hurry we can douse that fuse before the explosion occurs.