Lurking in the shadows of the coronavirus crisis in Michigan is a sub-title, a sub-heading. There’s a related potential crisis that is ready to explode, and if it does, we’ll have a disaster beyond belief. That tinderbox is made up of Michigan’s 30 prisons. We’ve got ourselves a mess!
There are 38,000 women and men living in our state prisons, they’re getting sick, they’re dying, and if we don’t do something about it right now that situation is going to get completely out of hand.
The sad thing is, it didn’t have to be this way.
For years we’ve been complaining. By “we,” I mean all of the fine prisoner advocacy agencies in our state. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is the only agency that specializes solely in one-on-one advocacy, but Michigan is blessed with many fine organizations doing their very best to improve the system and help prisoners.
We’ve complained about the number of mentally ill in prison, the number of parolable lifers who should be out, the number of juvenile lifers who should have been re-sentenced, the number of prisoners with long-indeterminate sentences, the number of commutation applications that never got a response, the number of prisoners past their earliest release date, the number of frail and elderly, the number of sick and dying.
I was looking over my notes from a speech I gave in 2015. I was hammering away on all of these topics way back then. Some years ago the Citizens Research Council concluded that if Michigan just reduced its inflated prison population to the same averages as the other Great Lakes states it could save $500-million!
But, the Governor, the Corrections Director, our state legislators, always had other priorities that needed attention first.
Martin Luther once marveled at “How soon ‘not now' becomes ‘never.'”
Well, those other priorities have faded into the background now. We have a full-blown national and state emergency, and we have the potential for a prison crisis on a scale no one has ever seen before.
The coronavirus is spreading, and prisoners are getting sick by the day. Staff members are testing positive. We cannot wait any longer! This time, now means right now!
Our CEO, Matt Tjapkes, conferred with other leading prisoner advocates for nearly two hours over the weekend. They carefully prepared a lengthy letter of recommendations to the Governor and the Corrections Director requiring immediate attention. It was signed by 11 agencies. Please add your voice of support.
President Theodore Roosevelt had some words on important decision-making: “In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing to do, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.