Parents in prison add stress to children, family lives

By JOSHUA BENDER
Capital News Service
LANSING — One in 10 Michigan children has had a parent in jail or in prison, a rate so high it puts Michigan in a tie for the thir- highest rate in the nation, according to a newly released report. And that has significant ramifications for the mental health of the children. “This is as traumatic as experiencing domestic violence and abuse, in that the trauma continues to affect kids into adulthood,” said Alicia Guevara Warren, Kids Count project director for the Michigan League for Public Policy, a Lansing-based child welfare advocacy group. Losing a parent to the penal system puts children at greater risk of depression and anxiety, she said. The loss also puts a greater financial burden on families to cover basic household expenses.

Older prison inmates run up state health costs

By JOSHUA BENDER
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.

Study: mental illness associated with solitary confinement

By JOSHUA BENDER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Many Michigan prisoners suffering from serious mental illnesses or developmental disabilities spend their days in isolated 23-hour lockdown. That might be harmful to their mental health, according to a recent national study published in the American Journal of Public Health. It found that prisoners spending time in what is also called segregated housing are nearly seven times more likely to harm themselves. Some  Department of Corrections officials say they don’t believe that’s the case inside Michigan’s prisons. A daily average of 35 seriously mentally ill or developmentally disabled inmates spent time in solitary confinement for 2013-14, Michigan prison officials said.

State provides training to prepare inmates for workforce

By ZHAO PENG
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

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.

Long sentences fuel big prisons budget

By KYLE CAMPBELL
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.

Tasers in prisons reduce injuries, inmate fights

By JUSTINE McGUIRE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Officers and inmates benefit when tasers are in prisons, according to the Department of Corrections and the Michigan Corrections Organization. According to the department, employee injuries at the hands of inmates declined 17 percent between October 2011 and March 2012 compared to the previous year. There were 233 injuries compared to 281 the year before. Daniel Heyns, department director, said, “I knew it would work from my old days as a county sheriff. “I knew we could change some of those violent interactions in the institutions,” he said.

State prisons adapting to graying, infirm inmates

By KYLE CAMPBELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — When you imagine a state prison inmate, you might think of someone young and tough with arms covered in tattoos and muscles swollen from hours of pumping iron in the yard. How about wrinkled and gray with arthritic hands gripping a walker or spinning the wheels on a wheelchair? Despite an overall decline in prison population, the number of inmates above the age of 65 has increased 78 percent to 1,073 during the past decade. Those inmates make up about 2.5 percent of the prison system, but with more baby boomers entering old age, that number will only go up, officials warn. It’s a fact the Department of Corrections can’t ignore.

Prisons face security level questions

By KYLE CAMPBELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — During the past five years, Michigan’s prison population has dropped by nearly 8,000 and 20 facilities have closed, leaving the Department of Correction with one question to answer: Where should it keep those who stay? Matching prisoners’ security risks to the appropriate facility has become a never-ending game. The department tracks the number of prisoners within the system, as well as their security rank — Level I presenting the lowest risk and Level IV presenting the highest — and adjusts its facilities accordingly. However, some experts question the accuracy of the department’s evaluation process. Inmates are evaluated annually — twice annually if they’re new to the system — to determine if they should be moved to a different security level facility or if they should stay put.

Longer shifts tested at two prisons

By KYLE CAMPBELL
Capital News Service
LANSING — In an effort to save money in one of Michigan’s most costly departments, correctional facilities throughout the state are considering increasing shifts from eight hours to 12 hours, a concept that’s being met with mixed reactions. Two prisons are giving the two-shift system a trial run, Muskegon Correctional Facility, which has had 12-hour shifts since it reopened last fall, and Newberry Correctional Facility. The issue is under discussion at several other prisons. Correctional officers at Newberry voted to accept the administration’s proposal to test 12-hour shifts Jan. 15, said Kris Kangas, president of the Newberry chapter of the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing the guards.