Inmates sentenced to life in prison as juveniles get chance at parole

Capital News Service
LANSING – A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that juveniles sentenced to life in prison should be guaranteed a shot at parole came three months too late for one Michigan man. Stephen Osterhout of Gaylord saw no end to his lifelong imprisonment, according to longtime friend Linda Day. He took his life behind bars this past October. The Jan. 26 court ruling means that about 350 inmates in Michigan serving life sentences without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles could get a chance at parole.

State provides training to prepare inmates for workforce

Capital News Service
LANSING — Since 2014, only 30 percent of parolees in Michigan have found a job after being released from prison. The other 70 percent are struggling, according to the Department of Corrections. Chris Gautz, a public information officer from the department, said parolees find jobs in sectors ranging from fast food to restaurants to factories to agriculture. Some are even starting their own business. The department provides educational resources to help prepare prisoners for their release.

Jails, prisons struggle with mentally ill inmates

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.

Counties look to Medicaid to slow mental health costs

Capital News Service
LANSING – Jail inmates’ mental health costs will continue to rise without an expansion of Medicaid, according to sheriff’s departments across the state. In 2012, the Allegan County Jail spent about $15,250, averaging about $1,270 per month to improve mental health, the Allegan County Sheriff’s Department said. In March of this year, mental health services for inmates cost about $2,400, almost double the monthly average of 2012, the department said. Ann Russell, the corrections administrator at Oakland County Jail, said her sheriff’s office spends about $1.3 million annually on inmate mental health services, including the cost of medications. “The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office has been working for many years to assist in reducing the jail’s cost for mental health services,” Russell said.

Long sentences fuel big prisons budget

Capital New Service
LANSING — Despite a declining prison population, the average Michigan prisoner is spending more time behind bars — at significant taxpayer expense. Michigan inmates spend on average 4.3 years in prison while the national average is 2.9 years, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trust. The disparity is even greater among violent criminals at 7.6 years on average in Michigan compared to five years nationally. Some experts argue longer prison stints do little to deter crime or reduce recidivism and therefore only swell the Corrections Department budget. Corrections Director Daniel Heyns said the major source of the problem is sentencing.

Prisons, community colleges team up for classes

Capital News Service
LANSING – More community colleges are partnering with the Department of Corrections to educate inmates in hopes of boosting their chances success after release. Inmates qualified for college-level work are using prison classrooms typically used for substance abuse or GED preparation to further their education. Last fall, a pilot program was launched that offered Jackson Community College courses at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson. Daniel Heyns, Corrections director, said, “The teachers enjoy doing it. The people that are enrolled are motivated students – I’ve heard it said even more motivated than free students.”
He said, “Maybe they value the opportunity a little more.”
Kevin Rose, who teaches computer courses and advises inmates through Jackson Community College, said, “The students were much more engaged and enthusiastic than what I would typically see.”
Rose said the prisoners have a greater appreciation for education than his average students.

Union, Corrections face off on prison patrols

Capital News Service
LANSING – The Department of Corrections is looking at new technologies to reduce staffing costs without reducing security. According to the department, 27 prisons will no longer have armed perimeter patrols 24 hours a day. It also will change the job classifications of some corrections officers in April as a cost-saving strategy. However, union leaders say the move could endanger the public and staff. Corrections Director Daniel Heyns said the changes will reduce the $2 billion Michigan spends annually on prisons, about one third of the state’s general budget.

Prison population continues to drop

Capital News Service
LANSING —- Michigan has its smallest prison population since 1997. “Prison populations have been dropping in the last five years,” said Russ Marlan, the public information officer at the Department of Corrections. Michigan prisons had 42,940 inmates at the end of December, compared to a peak of 51,554 in March 2007, according to a new department report. “It’s good news,” said David Moran, clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan. “As of 2008, the U.S. had the highest incarceration rate in the world.