Older prison inmates run up state health costs

Capital News Service
LANSING — The number of prisoners older than 50 has increased 146 percent since 1998, according to Michigan prison officials. This jump from 3,589 prisoners in that age group to 8,819 in 2014 creates a number of health care and cost challenges for state prisons, said Chris Gautz, public information officer for the Department of Corrections. The aging of inmates between 1994 and when she retired in 2012 was stark, said Carol Howes, a retired warden who worked at the Lakeland and Coldwater prisons. “The prisoner population was much sicker,” she said. Lakeland houses elderly inmates and it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to arrive from a hospital for post-operative care, Howes said.

Judge allows transgender suit against state to proceed

Capital News Service
LANSING — Transgendered Michigan residents can pursue a constitutional lawsuit challenging the Secretary of State’s requirements to change the gender on their drivers’ licenses and state ID cards, a federal judge has ruled. The decision rejects a bid by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to get the case thrown out without trial but doesn’t determine whether the challengers ultimately will win the case. At issue is whether Johnson’s office can legally require transgendered residents to undergo sex-reassignment — “gender confirmation” — surgery so they can provide an amended birth certificate to change the listed gender. The agency adopted that policy in 2011. A lawyer for the challengers, Jay Kaplan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said his organization had met several times during almost three years with Johnson’s representatives before filing suit.

Schools see need to address LGBT issues

Capital News Service
LANSING — Over the past several years, Kim Phillips-Knope’s role in assisting Michigan high school staff address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues has changed. Phillips-Knope, who has worked with educators and administrators through a program called “A Silent Crisis” for the past decade, said the program began with informing them about the state’s LGBT population and the risk of self-harm and then moved onto ensuring that those students are safe and thrive in public high schools. Now educators understand that the LGBT population exists and is at risk, but “What do we need to do to make sure they’re safe in our schools?” said Phillips-Knope, a Michigan Department of Education special projects consultant. According to the 2013 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the 8.7 percent of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were 4.6 times more likely to attempt suicide, three times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school grounds in the past 12 months and 2.7 times more likely to miss at least one day in the past 30 because of safety concerns. That shift in awareness on the part of educators is reflected in the growing number of participants in the program, along with the demand for an advanced course, she said.

Legislature seeks to limit police confiscation powers

Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan lawmakers want to make it harder for law enforcement agencies to take people’s stuff when they’re not charged with a crime. Legislators have introduced bills to reform the state’s “civil forfeiture laws,” which they and civil liberties advocates say encourage abuse by police agencies and infringe on citizen rights. Civil forfeiture law in Michigan allows police and prosecutors to confiscate a person’s car, property or money if they suspect it has been used in criminal activity — even if the owner is not charged with a crime. This is different from criminal forfeiture law, which requires the owner to be convicted in court before the asset can be seized. The money and proceeds from seized assets — $24 million in 2013 — go into agency budgets.

Bill would speed tracking of missing people’s cell phones

Capital News Service
LANSING — Turn on any crime show, such as CSI, and you’ll see a scene like this: The police identify a suspect, and within seconds a tech expert has traced the cell phone to the perp’s exact GPS coordinates. “I’ve had several people ask me, ‘You can already do that, right?’” said Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. “But it’s not that easy.”
While federal legislation allows cellular providers to turn over a user’s location information, it does not require them to do so, unless the police have a warrant. In some cases–such as an abduction or a wandering Alzheimer’s patient– the time taken to obtain a warrant may mean the difference between life and death. Across the country, 17 states have passed what is commonly referred to as “Kelsey Smith Acts,” designed to expedite cellular location tracking.