While everyone has justifiably been worrying about their kids, their elderly parents, and yes, themselves, we’ve been worrying about prisoners. It’s no secret that during this national emergency, Governor’s offices, parole boards, corrections officials and state legislators are getting all kinds of advice, and all kinds of pressure, all over the country.
Michigan is no exception.
A number of prisoner advocacy agencies are collaborating on a list of important items that are not quite demands, but really can’t just be labelled suggestions. For this column, however, I only want to focus on family and friend relationships.
In times of a pandemic, the first thing that happens is a ban on prison visits. And while there’s no argument that this is absolutely necessary, there is also strong argument for continued contact with those persons closest to an inmate.
The Michigan Department of Corrections realizes this, and quickly made work to get some rates reduced. A statement from the department today indicated that their vendor for phone services, Global Tel Link Corporation, is offering two free, five-minute phone calls to prisoners each week. Call rates are 16 cents per minute. In addition, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz was quoted as saying prisoners would also get a break with email service. JPay, which is the service available to Michigan prisoners, is offering two free stamps per week, covering the cost of two emails. Each email requires one stamp. The cost of those stamps is $5 for 20, $10 for 50, or $20 for 100.
Two free brief phone calls and two short email messages a week? Not good enough!
The Michigan State Appellate Defender Office and Criminal Defense Resource Center has asked the Governor and the State Legislature to go one step better: The following should be made available free of charge for those who remain incarcerated: telephone calls, video visits, email communication, materials for correspondence, and postage so that people can communicate with their loved ones during the State of Emergency.
We support that position.
Quoting the Marshall Project: Inmates, institutions and children benefit. Research shows visits help reduce prison misconduct and recidivism. Evidence also suggests that visits can positively affect a child's well-being and improve the chances that families will remain intact when a former inmate reenters the community.
Michigan is off to a slow start. Let’s make this happen for the incarcerated and their loved ones now!
“Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”