Jails, prisons struggle with mentally ill inmates

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING — It started slowly, when the Traverse City Regional Psychiatric Hospital shut its doors in the mid-1980s. Then in the 1990s, 10 more folded in rapid succession. And like the last teetering blocks in a long line of dominoes, Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital fell in 2003 and the Mt. Pleasant Center in 2009.

Now, the state continues to grapple with lasting effects of those closures. Officials and psychiatric professionals say prisons and jails have become the new home for the many seriously psychologically troubled, and at a high price for both inmates and taxpayers.

The projected 2013 cost for Corrections Department psychotropic drugs is $3,431,500.
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New study questions river sand trap strategy

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Researchers based in Marquette have potentially grave news for Michigan anglers: Hundreds of shallow basins dug into riverbeds to collect trout- and salmon-harming sediment might be more like fish coffins than protectors.

After two reportedly successful experiments in the 1980s, sand traps were constructed worldwide in an attempt to save fish populations hurt by excessive sand in freshwater streams. Michigan has more than 250.

But now, researchers from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) say they doubt whether these measures have had any benefit. In some cases, sand traps could even harm river ecosystems, experts say.
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False alarms rile police agencies

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Flash. Veins of white light spread through the sky. Crackle. A blast of 100 to 120 decibels assault your ears. But then something happens:

The pitter-patter of rain before the next lightning strike is interrupted: Parked cars outside wail as the thunderclap triggers their alarm systems.

But the problem goes beyond annoying noise, law enforcement officials say. Just as storms can set off car theft alarms, home and business alarm systems may mistakenly summon the police when there’s no burglar around.

And there’s usually no burglar.
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Income inequality wide in Michigan

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Income inequality – long a social reality in America – may be permanent, a new study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., suggests.

The study reveals continuing opulence for a few top-earners and an ever-slimmer slice of the economic pie for the rest.

And the inequality gap in Michigan is wider than in many other states.
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Medicaid expansion would increase vets’ health options

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING — While the Legislature wrestles with a recent House decision not to expand state health care for poor families through the Medicaid program, experts say roughly 20,000 veterans will also be left uninsured if the decision sticks.

“They’re going to be left out in the cold,” said Jan Hudson, a health care policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy, which does research and advocacy regarding social issues like poverty, education and health.

The House recently rejected Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to expand Medicaid coverage despite available federal funding for the program.
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Conditions still challenge migrant farmworkers

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – They work long, grueling hours in the blistering sun.

Nearly half of the 90,000 migrant laborers in the state were under the age of 13 in 2010, according to the Department of Civil Rights.

And the average migrant family makes between $12,255 and $16,773 a year, according to state estimates – far below the federal poverty line of $27,570 for a family of four. Continue reading

New farm workers come from Eastern Europe

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Few people are interested in the hard, dirty toil of farm labor.

But hard work is nothing new for some in a transitory lifestyle already long-lived.

Experts from the Michigan Farm Bureau say an influx of farm workers from Eastern Europe seeks those gritty jobs because they’re used to doing them.

Craig Anderson, who manages the agricultural safety and labor services department at the bureau, said an increasing number of workers from that area of the world are finding jobs involving dairy or livestock.

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Land conservancies no substitute for state land

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Green groups like the Little Traverse Conservancy and Mid-Michigan Land Conservancy are pushing to protect and preserve as much of Michigan’s pristine beauty as possible. That’s what they do.

But at a time when a new law limits the ability of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to acquire more land, more responsibility might fall on the shoulders of conservancies in the state; a role experts say conservancies can’t fill.

The law that took effect in July 2012 caps the amount of state-owned land to roughly 4 million acres. That’s disconcerting for environmentalists, who call the limit arbitrary and argue it will render the state potentially unable to cope with rising demand for public land.
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Should driverless cars get the green light?

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – This isn’t the remote controlled car you played with as a kid.

Companies across the state are in the process of unveiling cars that drive themselves, while a bill that would allow testing driverless vehicles revs through the Legislature.

If passed, it would open the roads to companies like Google and General Motors – and smaller Michigan-based firms – to try their shiny new toys on the road.

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is sponsoring the bill, which is in the Transportation Committee. Cosponsors include Sens. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart; Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan; Morris Hood, D-Detroit; Steven Bieda, D-Warren; and Arlan Meekhof, R-Olive Township. Continue reading

Push on to toughen sex trafficking laws

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN

Capital News Service

LANSING – In the midst of what experts call the second-fastest growing criminal industry in the world after drug trafficking, some legislators are pushing for tougher punishment for sex traffickers.

The new legislation would ensure that defendants convicted of coercing children ages 16 and 17 into prostitution are more stiffly punished, said Senate sponsor Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan.

Sex trafficking is widely considered a form of modern-day slavery.
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