Michigan prisons

The Michigan Supreme Court says felons sentenced as juveniles to life without parole won’t get new sentences. That’s despite a US Supreme Court ruling that says it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

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The clock is ticking on a decade-long effort to prevent sexual violence inside American prisons. In a recent survey, the vast majority of states said they will try to comply with federal rules. But several others, led by Texas, have protested to the Justice Department.

Jan Lastocy served 15 months in a Michigan prison for attempted embezzlement — her first brush with the law. The assaults began when a new corrections officer showed up at the warehouse where she had been assigned to work as a secretary.

Tim Pearce/Flickr

A group of judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys goes to work Thursday on finding new and better ways to collect fines and fees from defendants, and to ensure that people are not sent to jail because they don’t have the money to pay.       

An NPR investigation identified Michigan as one of the states where judges sometimes send defendants to jail for failure to pay – even when that’s not because they won’t pay, but they can’t. The US Supreme Court has said that’s unconstitutional.

U.S. lawmakers and judges are feeling some urgency to solve the same problem: how to stop sending people to jail simply for failing to pay court fines and fees, often because they're too poor to afford them. Policymakers react to a recent NPR investigation into the issue.

There's a new effort underway to help the families of Michigan inmates cope with having someone they love in prison. 

It's a pilot program that centers on having someone serve as a liaison between prisoner's families and officials at three Michigan prisons. That someone brings hard-earned insight to what it's like to have a loved one behind bars. 

Lois DeMott's son was a prisoner, so she learned firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate the prison system. 

Now, she hopes to help other families with the new Family Participation Program. She joined us on Stateside. 

*Listen to the full interview above.

Debtors prisons were outlawed in the United States nearly 200 years ago. And more than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear: Judges cannot send people to jail just because they are too poor to pay their court fines.

That decision came in a 1983 case called Bearden v. Georgia, which held that a judge must first consider whether the defendant has the ability to pay but "willfully" refuses.

The Michigan Department of Corrections has fined Aramark, the company that handles food operations in state prisons.

The MDOC notified Aramark of the fines, totaling almost $100,000, by two letters sent in the last two weeks.

The MDOC said Aramark violated its contract by substituting meals, and by failing to prepare the right number of meals.

The fines have been assessed for 52 unauthorized meal substitutions and 240 instances of improper meal counts.

Life without parole used to be the automatic sentence for juveniles who were tried as adults and convicted of first-degree murder. That was until June of 2012, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that automatic life without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional. But a question here in Michigan remains – what happens to more than 350 juvenile lifers here who were sent to prison before the decision? Thursday the state Supreme Court hears arguments on that question.

‘Rush To Be A Man’

State of Michigan

Former Michigan Governor William Milliken, of Traverse City, says more than 350 prison inmates sentenced to life without parole as juveniles deserve a chance at freedom. Milliken – along with more than 100 law school deans and retired judges and prosecutors -- filed a brief today with the state Supreme Court.

Michigan House of Representatives

State House Democrats are calling for an independent investigation into a recent prison escape in Ionia.

The state’s Republican attorney general is looking into the escape, including whether recent state budget cuts played a role, but Democrats say Bill Schuette can’t conduct an impartial inquiry in the case.

“At the end of the day, it’s headed by a Republican politician, who is very unlikely to call out his Republican colleagues who voted for budget cuts that may have led to the prison break,” says Representative Tim Greimel, the Democratic leader in the state House.

Prison fence.
WFIU Public Radio/Flickr

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has put the brakes to an order that the state hold hearings for more than 350 prisoners sentenced as juveniles to life with no chance for parole. The stay means Michigan does not have to meet an end-of-the-year deadline to submit its plan for holding the hearings. That deadline comes from federal judge who ruled last month that Michigan is taking too long to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said automatic life without parole for juveniles is “cruel and unusual punishment.”

A federal judge in Detroit says the state must give more than 350 inmates sentenced as juveniles to life without parole a chance at freedom. US District Court  Judge John O’Meara says a US Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s juvenile lifer law and others like it applies retroactively, as well as in the future.

The order also says the state has to offer a “real and meaningful” chance at parole.

Prison fence.
WFIU Public Radio/Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether more than 300 inmates sentenced to life without parole for murders committed while they were juveniles are entitled to parole hearings.

The prison in Baldwin will remain closed for now. Michigan will not allow the privately run, for-profit prison in northern Michigan to house about a thousand inmates because there would be no savings to taxpayers.

The state turned down two bids. In both cases, the contracts would have cost more than what the state pays right now.

The Florida-based GEO Group was hoping to re-open an empty prison it owns in the town of Baldwin. Utah-based Management and Training Corporation also submitted a bid.

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