The folly of jailing the elderly and non-violent

July 3, 2015

From the July-August 2015 issue of News & Letters

Editor’s note: Below we print excerpts of a May 25, 2015, letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder from Rand Gould, a prisoner at Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Mich. To read more about what aging prisoners face, read Gould’s article, “Journey to death’s door” in the Jan.-Feb. 2015 N&L.

Dignity lies in seeing reality for what it is—and acting responsibly in the face of it. –James Peck

Dear Gov. Snyder:

…Today, I’m writing to thank you for your speech at Goodwill Industries last week outlining steps to be taken to reduce Michigan’s considerable prison population, while protecting citizens and saving funds that would be better used to improve the state’s roads and schools. Particularly, the steps to send fewer non-violent offenders to prison and to release more elderly prisoners who don’t pose a threat.

…I’ve come to know many of the elderly long-term and lifer prisoners. I wish it was possible for you to know them as I do, for the overwhelming majority have long ceased to be a threat to public safety, if they ever were. Some of them have served over 50 years, and many began their sentences as juveniles, growing up and growing old in prison. Many of them, like myself, have never received a misconduct report for any type of violent behavior, such as fighting or assault, and if any were written up it was years, if not decades, ago.

The men I’m fortunate to know are mobile, unlike the utterly helpless men I saw being lifted into and out of wheelchairs at the prison hospital, i.e., Duane Waters, last year. I was shocked to see these pale, frail, ghost-like men kept in prison. What possible purpose could their imprisonment serve?….

As you know, it costs a minimum of $35,000 a year to house one prisoner and Michigan has over 43,000 prisoners. This figure does not include education costs and the legacy costs from the state’s massive prison-building program in the 1980s and ’90s. Moreover, this figure doubles to $70,000 per year for elderly prisoners…. Michigan is in the top ten states with the highest percentage of prisoners over age 55… The National Institute of Corrections classifies prisoners over 50 as “aging” due to the stress of imprisonment and typical lack of appropriate healthcare and nutrition prior to and during incarceration….

Conversely, the recidivism rate for elderly prisoners who have served over 20 years is around 1% or 2% and rarely involves the commission of a new crime. Yet each elderly prisoner kept locked up for an additional 10 years costs the state approximately $700,000…

Here at Thumb Correctional, which has operated for decades with no escapes and minimal violence (unlike, e.g., Kinross), a new administration thinks spending more taxpayer money is the way to go. They’ve instituted a controlled movement policy, wasting taxpayers’ money by erecting unnecessary and dangerous fences within the prison, which funnel prisoners and guards into crowded kill-zones every time yard movement is called. Most prison stabbing and slashing attacks occur in crowds so the attackers can avoid detection, as these administrators well know…. Throwing all this money away may well explain why it is so difficult for Michigan prisoners to see a dentist or doctor or eat a decent meal….

Thank you for your time and consideration and please feel free to contact me regarding any of the above.

—Sincerely, Rand W. Gould

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