By Rev. Edward Pinkney
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) data show the number of prisoners housed in higher security cells in the prison system has plummeted over the last two decades while the number of prisoners kept in less expensive, low security housing units has soared.
The Detroit Free Press reports that there were nearly 1,700 prisoners with the highest security rating in 1995. There were less than half as many inmates at that level by 2015.
Corrections officers have said that the department is pushing down prisoners’ security classifications to save money, but spokesman Chris Gautz for MDOC Director Heidi Washington has denied that claim. Mr. Gautz says some of the classification numbers are misleading because of the way some prison bed classifications have changed.
The MDOC Officers Union reports that pushing down security classifications is a dangerous practice that can lead to violent incidents.
Indeed, the violence is out of control in Michigan prisons. The prison officials or guards get prisoners to beat up other prisoners. They call it “playing hide-and-seek.” There is so much violence that is completely out of control. The violence, threats, coercion, harassment, abuse, degradation, inhumane treatment, and cruel treatment continue unabated. There is much suffering in the MDOC prison system.
The nation’s mass incarceration system hundreds of thousands of young Black men and women already entombed in the dungeons of the America gulag, and for some it might seem ironic that the only individuals who ultimately ended up indicted, prosecuted and serving long sentences, were members of the Black working class. But for those of us who live the hellish reality of life in the United States, there is no irony here, just consistency. It is what a racist, colonial state does. It is the de-historicized understanding of the role of the police and the states that shift the discourse from a critique of domination and repression as systemic to the liberal notion that the current state can actually render justice to a captive surplus population.
In the USA today, one in every 31 adults is under some form of penal control, which includes one in 11 African-American men. How did the land of the free become the house of the world’s largest prison system? I am challenging the belief that America’s prison problem originated with the Reagan administration’s “War on Drugs.” I have traced the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare program of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” at the height of the civil rights era.
The courtroom should be a place where justice is served. Today, more and more, however, courts are becoming crime scenes. Here, innocent people are kidnapped and held captive. There is no justification for the wrongdoing behind the record number of exonerations society is witnessing: 149 last year and the numbers are rising.
There are many more examples of how the innocent suffer, from fault not of our own, due to laws being enacted to restrict our access to the courts. Until the day comes when culprits responsible for the many wrongful convictions are held fully accountable, wrongful convictions will not stop!