More county jails seek to keep inmates from returning

By Jingjing Nie
Capital News Service

LANSING – More Michigan counties are offering programs to keep inmates from returning to jail.

Similar to programs in place at state prisons, the local programs teach skills that give a better chance to jail inmates who serve much shorter sentences than those in prison, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Each program is unique and depends on the demographics and the size of the jail, Koops said.

Kent County is in the sixth year of a re-entry program piloted with the National Institute of Corrections, based in Washington, D.C.

It offers classes on avoiding substance abuse, job readiness, high school equivalency completion, job readiness training,social skills and problem solving, said Rob Steele, the inmate program coordinator.

The county re-entry programs are designed to eliminate the short-term repeat offenders.

Jails have frequent flyers, said Capt. Klint Thorne, who oversees facility operations for Kent County. “It is like a revolving door. We will have the same problem with same people again.”

“Frequent flyers” usually started in the criminal justice system at a young age and have been arrested several times, Thorne said. The program targets them and other high-risk people serving sentences to ensure there is enough time to have an impact, he said.

Finding funding for such programs is difficult, Thorne said. The department often partners with local groups.

“It is important to have support from the local community — financial support and time commitment to make this work,” Thorne said. “I think this should be a nationwide program, but I understand there is some difficulty in counties.”

The Allegan County Correctional Facility started a similar program in 2009, said Sgt. John Sexton of the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department.

It allows people to live in one dorm as study buddies, he said. They have two life skills classes a day, five days a week. The coursework includes job skills, budgeting, addiction recovery, parenting and Bible study.

Inmates can also choose weekend workshops, worship services, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and high school equivalency classes.

The program lasts 10 weeks, Sexton said. Eighteen people graduated this year.

“Some students actually asked the judge if they can stay until the class is over,” Sexton said.

Most of the students don’t return to jail, Sexton said. “Some of them got back, but mostly for a smaller crime like violation of parole. They rarely come back for the same level crime or a more severe one.”

And the program has supporters.  

“Judges, probation officers, sheriffs and a lot people from law enforcement are all invited to the graduation,” he said.

The program was so successful that the county set up a women’s program. The first students graduated in September 2016.

It offers the same classes but also offers individual counseling with a therapist.

Forgotten Man Ministries works in similar programs with 33 county jails across the state, said Sarah Farkas, the group’s lead chaplain. It offers religious classes, worship services and individual counseling.

It is possible for people to change their lives, she said.

“When I first started in the program about two and a half years ago, it broke my heart to see how people are looking at the inmate,” she said. “I feel like inmates are always marginalized in a lot of ways.

“I had a loved one who was incarcerated once, so I understand the system and I see society always associated shame with it,” Farkas said. “This is a successful program, it empowers them and empowers their thinking process.”

Inmates in jail ministries are open and willing to share their stories, which is not often seen in everyday life, she said.

Life skills programs are emerging in county jails but not yet widely used, Koops said.

“I’d like to see it not only statewide, it should be a nationwide program,” he said.

Counties could pay informants more, if bill becomes law

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Criminal informants in Michigan could be in for a larger payday if a recently introduced bipartisan bill increases the limit on payouts by 10 times.

The  bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason, and 17 co-sponsors who say a larger reward amount could make witnesses to crimes more willing to come forward. Three co-sponsors are Republican.

Currently the maximum amount that could be given to an informant is $2,000, and it comes from a county’s general fund. This legislation would increase the limit to $20,000. There is no particular reason for the proposed limit, Cochran said, although it seemed to be a figure counties could afford.

As for why there is any limit, Cochran said it was precedent. The law sets the limit at $2,000. However, Cochran said he would be open to an amendment to the bill to get rid of the limit and allow counties to figure it out themselves.

“The idea being the reward would be a little more substantial and possibly someone would come forward with information,” Cochran said.

A former sheriff approached him about increasing the reward for police informants after one of his deputies died while chasing a suspect, Cochran said. No witnesses to the crash came forward, and he thought a greater incentive might have made a difference.

“He felt very strongly in working with the Sheriffs’ Association that they would like to see this raised to $20,000,” Cochran said.

The money would be controlled by county commissioners and be doled out of the county general fund. Each county would select how much to reward witnesses up to that amount, Cochran said.

“This is permissive. It doesn’t require the county to put forth that much reward but it could be up to $20,000,” Cochran said. “Obviously they have to work within their budget constraints, but this allows for local control.”

Cochran said he has the backing of the Ingham County Sheriffs’ Department and the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Typically, the money doled out to criminal informants goes to persons informing on drug dealers or those involved in racketeering, said Blaine Koops, the executive director of the Association.

Rewards for criminal informants typically do work, he said. The money goes to those who divulge information leading to arrests or convictions of people for high- level felonies.

“The problem is, money is a great motivator,” Koops said.

Co-sponsors are: John Chirkun, D-Roseville; Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor; Pam Faris, D-Clio; Tim Sneller, D-Burton; Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale; Robert Wittenberg, D-Oak Park; Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti; Scott Dianda, D-Calumet; Terry Sabo, D-Muskegon; Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township; David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Brian Elder, D-Bay City; Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township; Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township; Leslie Love, D-Detroit; Andy Schor, D-Lansing; and Patrick Green, D-Warren.

The bill was referred to the Law and Justice Committee, where Cochran says his Republican colleagues said they felt optimistic about getting the bill pushed through for a hearing.

Police cite fewer speeders, costing counties patrol dollars

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — Speeding might be less risky  for drivers in Michigan as police officers are issuing fewer citations annually.

But that drop is costing county sheriffs’ departments thousands of dollars each year for patrolling the state’s back roads and to investigate crashes.

The program, known as secondary road patrol, is a state program of traffic enforcement and crash investigation on non-main roads in the counties, including parts of national and state parks.

It was funded solely by state grant general fund from 1979 to 1992. But now it is self-funded by the surcharge added to fines generated by traffic citations issued by all police. Partial allocation from the general fund continued from 1992 until 2003 when it  was completely eliminated

The average number of  citations issued per deputy has decreased from 582 in 2006 to 444 in 2016, according to a report by Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety Planning.. That resulted in a loss of nearly $3 million to the secondary road patrol program during the past 10 years.

“The two are intertwined,” said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “The number of citations equals the amount revenue that’s generated.”

There may be multiple reasons for the decrease in citations, Koops said. But more compassionate officers may be among them.

“Part of it is the whole demeanor of the new police officers,” Koops said. “Number one is more compassionate police officers as far as looking at an individual and their individual circumstances but also their looking at their job differently.”

Koops said more officers are looking at their jobs as more community-based as the people they serve are also the people they live among.

Other reasons for the decrease in citations  have to do with changing road environments. Barriers dividing the freeways have made it more difficult for officers to catch violators.

“If they’re tracking opposite direction traffic, they cannot go through the median to track that vehicle,” Koops said. “If indeed they’re going to track that vehicle, they have to go to the next emergency exchange in the middle of the road which can be several miles away.”

Officers are also more cognizant of being filmed or having to use body cameras which may make them less likely to ticket speeders.

The decrease in funding has led also to a decrease in secondary road patrol deputies funded through the program, taking officers off the road. At the program’s’ inception in 1979, 287 officers were funded by the secondary road patrol funds. Now approximately 126 officers are funded through the program.

That shifted costs to local government. The number of county-funded officers has increased from 1,123 in 1979 to approximately 2,184 in 2016.

“There’s just not enough money to put the deputies on the road,” Koops said. “That money is spent really as far as a funding source to augment the general fund that a county puts into traffic enforcement.”

Eighty-eight percent of the program’s expenditures, or about $11.8 million,  are spent on personnel costs. Each deputy costs approximately $97,258.04 including salary, fringes, vehicles and equipment.

The decrease in funds to the program has no quick solution,  Koops said.

“Truthfully, right now there is no solution,” he said.

Reviving addicts doesn’t cure them, sheriffs say

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Drugs save the lives of some of Michigan’s opioid addicts, but they can’t solve the epidemic sweeping the state and nation.

Most Michigan police are equipped to revive people from an opioid overdose with the drug Narcan. But experts say it hasn’t done anything to help curb the addiction crisis. In fact, it may even falsely reassure addicts that they can continue their risky behavior.

“The dispensing of Narcan has nothing to do with getting anybody better,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth. “It just saves their life. And we’ve had multiple instances where three or four hours later, we’re going back on the same person and administering Narcan again.”

Narcan, a nasal spray that restores breathing to patients overdosed on opioids or heroin, has been key to saving lives. For instance, the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office says it has saved  more than 100 people  this year. Ingham County sheriff officials say they’ve administered it more than 150 times this year.

Statewide figures show the number of deaths due to opioid and heroin has risen, from 99 in 1999 to 1,689 deaths in 2016.

Coupled with the increase in deaths is an increase in use and in questions about a limit on how many times Narcan should be used. Middletown, Ohio, spent $2 million responding to overdoses, prompting a member of its city council to propose a cap on how often someone can be given Narcan.

It’s not a popular solution in Michigan.

“We don’t get to say no, never mind, you’ve had 10 or eight chances and are capped for the night and we’re not coming,” Wriggelsworth said.

Some heroin and opioid addicts carry around their own Narcan in case they overdose by accident—or on purpose.

“They’re called Lazarus parties,” Wriggelsworth said, “where they take heroin to the tune of almost dying and then they have Narcan there to bring their buddies back.”

Narcan may save lives, but it’s not a solution to addiction, said Chad Brummett, director of Clinical Research with the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan.

Some experts disagree that proposed legislation that would limit how often someone can be revived with Narcan is the best solution.

“I frankly don’t understand the rationale behind this,” Brummett said. “I think the people proposing that legislation would be better off to focus on things like increasing access to care, addiction treatment, because this is a disease, it’s not a choice.”

Narcan is donated to law enforcement by community health agencies. A kit with two nasal spray units, a face shield used when giving cardiopulmonary respiration, gloves and information on addiction treatment costs $75. The kits are paid for with funds to the agencies provided by block grants from the federal government to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Another drug also used to combat addiction is Vivitrol.

The  Department of Corrections recently began using it to block the desire to take opiates, while giving users little feel of euphoria if they relapse.

“We don’t have extensive knowledge of Vivitrol and its impact on prisons because it’s so new,” Anita Lloyd, the agency’s communications director, wrote in an email. “But if this medication can be used to treat addiction, and can be successfully managed as part of a larger treatment program—without a safety risk to staff or inmates—that’s a good thing.”

An injection of Vivitrol costs $1,000, requires 14 days of being clean ahead of time and is taken once a month.

Meanwhile, experts are predicting a long road ahead before the opiate crisis gets better.

“While prescribing of opioids has started to decrease, our prescribing still so far outpaces what is reasonable,” Brummett said. “Some are predicting it’ll get worse until 2020 or 2021.”

And it’s no longer just prescribed painkillers, he said. Heroin use has risen, while use of newer synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, which are said to be 10,000 times stronger than morphine, have also increased.

Moves by some of the 10 regional health networks that assist law enforcement by donating Narcan are beginning to think of how further to assist addicts.

“We understood from the very beginning, as part of the training we provide, that officers not only use the medicine to revive, but provide information as well,” said Achilles Malta,a  substance abuse expert with the Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health, “either to family members of the individual or the individual themselves.”

Beyond making education more available, Malta wants overdosed patients to have someone there to help them as soon as they are revived, while also letting family know about other resources in the community.

Michigan police, civil rights groups at odds over military equipment for cops

By JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — County sheriff departments eager to acquire more aircraft, observation helicopters, camouflage and other military equipment can look forward to more opportunity to acquire them after a federal ban on some surplus was lifted.

“President Trump’s actions enable law enforcement to provide tools and equipment that comes through the federal government at little to no cost that we cannot afford on a local basis,” said Tim Parker, the sheriff of Hillsdale County.

While this reverses the federal government’s position and allows police more access to such equipment, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights says it is a step away from improving police-community relations.

“For the Trump administration to lift the ban really sends the wrong message to law enforcement that they more or less have a free hand to engage militarized tactics in civilian populations,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, a coalition board member.

The new plan announced Aug. 28 rolls back a 2015 Obama administration restriction issued in response to criticism over police use of military-style gear by police during the Ferguson, Missouri, riots more than three years ago.

The new order eases restrictions on giving police equipment like tracked armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers and other military-grade supplies.

Police say the discussion about using military equipment has focused on need rather than the advantages it could bring in special cases, and they say it needs a shift in perspective.

“The whole issue, we think from a law enforcement’s perspective, has been framed incorrectly,” said Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. “Yes, it’s surplus equipment the military has that they’re giving to police departments. But anyone can buy this stuff on the market.”

And most of the equipment isn’t used the same way it was by the military.

Police use bayonets as cutting tools in medical kits and for ceremonial purposes, Stevenson said. Grenade launchers are used to disperse unruly crowds with tear gas. And a lot of what is acquired is cold- and warm-weather clothing, at a time, when “police department budgets were decimated,” Stevenson said.

“Most of this stuff won’t ever be used, but it’s an insurance policy,” he said.

In September 2012, the West Bloomfield Police Department used military armored vehicles and robots in a firefight with a barricaded gunman.

“An officer was killed by a barricaded gunman, who was shooting an automatic weapon, striking neighbors homes,” said Mike Bouchard, the Oakland County sheriff.

Armored vehicles and robots assisted in the safe evacuation of neighbors during the firefight.

“The fact of the matter is, these are life-saving equipment. Now we hope we never have to use them, but in our business, that’s not a strategy. Preparation is,” Bouchard said.

In 1997, Congress authorized the Department of Defense to repurpose tax-funded military equipment for police to use at no charge.

“That has already been paid for once. So the question is, ‘do you want to have the taxpayer pay for it twice, or repurpose it and use it in the domestic market?’” said the executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Blaine Koops.

Bouchard said Oakland County spent $350,000 on a new armored vehicle after losing its vehicle donated by the military after Obama’s executive order in January 2016,.

Hillsdale County may not be getting armored vehicles anytime soon, but Parker, the sheriff, said it’s good the opportunity is available.

“It is an extreme asset to local communities to have these tools are available,” he said.

In Marquette County,  with fewer than 70,000 people, some police chiefs do not see the need for military equipment.

“We don’t take advantage of that program too much,” Marquette County Sheriff Gregory Zyburt said. “I think the department received some rifles a while back, but not a lot since. There aren’t a lot of situations up here where that kind of equipment is needed.”

The Federal Defense Logistics Agency reports that Michigan has received more than $43 million of military surplus since 2006. That includes equipment as diverse as vehicles that resist mines, helicopters, bandage kits and flashlights.

An online database, run by Caspio, a software company, lists all surplus donated to law enforcement in Michigan by county. Information about the name, value and quantity of the supplies that was provided is available.

Even with lifting the ban, Koops of the Sheriffs’ Association doesn’t anticipate the equipment getting any more use than before.

“As far as the ban and the release of the ban, it’s really not going to change a lot of our procedures and processing. It’s special use, and that’s what it’s for. It’s for situations that the public may not see,” he said.

State laying plans to put new criminal justice laws to work

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — For the 18 criminal justice revamp bills signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last month, the next step is making the changes necessary throughout Michigan’s criminal justice system to spur them into action.

The updates to the state’s criminal justice system as a whole are meant to signal an emphasis on prisoner rehabilitation, as well as reducing recidivism and streamlining the system. This mostly involves incorporating more evidence-driven programs, or initiatives that have proved successful elsewhere.

Most of the bills will take effect on June 28.  Several of the bills will take effect starting Jan. 1, 2018.

Chris Gautz, a communications officer for the Department of Corrections, said the framework is being laid for a number of the new changes – especially those involving more complex issues and systems. Continue reading

Efforts lag to help mentally ill prisoners

By ISAAC CONSTANS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Despite recent efforts, treatment of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons is still inadequate, experts agree.

Up to 64 percent of inmates in Michigan jails have a mental illness, according to an August 2014 report from the office of Gov. Rick Snyder. In Michigan prisons, the figure hovers just above 20 percent.

Stepping Up, a 2-year-old program launched by the National Association of Counties, aims to reduce the number of those with mental illnesses in jails across the state. By closely monitoring the status and collecting data on those with mental illnesses, the program aims to link various groups to solve the issue.

Despite the endorsement of the Michigan Association of Counties, the situation is still bleak. Continue reading

Assisted suicide bill introduced — again

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Earlier this month, Rep. Tom Cochran recalls, a Michigan resident approached him during a coffee hour to tell him her family was moving to Oregon.

The woman’s father suffers from cancer, and when the time is right, he wants to be able to choose to die painlessly using lethal drugs with the aid of a doctor, Cochran said.

That’s a right the man will have in Oregon that he doesn’t have in Michigan.

“Her story is tragic,” said Cochran, a Mason Democrat. “It’s a topic we need to have discussion on, and it has been around for a long time.” Continue reading

Criminal justice bills would define problems to help solve them

By LAINA STEBBINS

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s recidivism rate is significantly higher than the national average. Or is it?

No one knows for sure, supporters of a criminal justice revamp package say, thanks to a lack of agreement among state agencies about which measurements to use in defining how often convicted criminals go on to commit future crimes. And that’s just one part of the problem.

A piece of legislation defining recidivism and how to calculate a rate is one of 20 bills in a package that supporters say would enhance the efficiency of Michigan’s criminal justice system. The package awaits approval from Gov. Rick Snyder after clearing the House and Senate with bipartisan support.

The bills would institute changes throughout the system: Reforms to data tracking, prison time, probation and parole policies, and reentry approaches are included. Continue reading

Bill would “level playing field” in human trafficking cases

By LAURA BOHANNON
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh nationally in reports of human trafficking, and a lawmaker wants to give prosecutors more tools to combat those crimes.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, has introduced a bill that would allow certified experts to testify about telltale signs of deviant social behavior demonstrated by human trafficking victims.

Bringing in experts to testify about a victim’s behavior allows judges and juries to receive informed opinion that the victim has, in fact, been subject to human trafficking.

Human trafficking is defined as forcing or deceiving a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, which is run by Polaris, a nonprofit group fighting slavery. Continue reading