Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Fight flares on free lawyers in parole hearings

Capital News Service

LANSING – New House legislation could bar court-appointed free legal representation for parolees.

The bill would prohibit appointment of lawyers at public expense for prisoners when a prosecutor or victim appeals their right to parole.

Its sponsor, Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said the measure would save counties money.

“When prisoners are out on parole, they already have a lawyer.  This would make sure they aren’t appointed additional counsel that has to be paid for by the county,” Pscholka said.

However, opponents of the bill disagree.

According to Pscholka, it’s up to individual judges whether to appoint a lawyer at county expense.

“Some counties don’t allow additional legal counsel to be appointed, but not all of them.  I want to make this a uniform law for the whole state,” Pscholka said.

Elizabeth Lyon, director of governmental relations at the State Bar of Michigan, said she is tracking the bill and has concerns but that the full organization has no formal position.

“I can’t comment on the specifics but I do have concerns that it would be unconstitutional,” Lyon said.

The Prisons and Corrections Council, a section of the State Bar, says inmates who can’t afford a lawyer to represent them in parole appeals should be entitled to counsel appointed by the court.

“Prosecutors are filing parole appeals with increasing frequency.  As a result, prisoners who are granted parole, including those already released, are forced to defend their parole status in formal court proceedings,” the council said in a policy statement.  “Prisoners usually don’t have the means to hire counsel, nor is there any rule or other mechanism for the appointment of counsel in such circumstances.”

The statement said it’s unfair to force prisoners to represent themselves in parole appeals.  “An unrepresented prisoner is no match for a county prosecutor in litigating such issues, and the unfairness is plain,” said the council.

David Moran, clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan, said the legislation is unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional.

“Appeal of parole is a very rare thing.  There has only been one case in the past two years that this bill would apply to,” Moran said.

He said that the bill as written could be unconstitutional because of a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave parolees the right to counsel on a case-by-case basis.

“A judge decides whether to appoint legal counsel in cases like this depending on the circumstances.  Flatly denying representation in all cases, as this bill would do, would be unconstitutional,” Moran said.

According to Moran, parolees can have appointed counsel at appeal hearings only if they are unable to represent themselves because they can’t speak English or if the case is too complex for them to understand.

“It is unfair to force people to defend themselves under some circumstances.  This bill would raise a serious constitutional issue and could take away the liberty interests of prisoners,” Moran said.

Pscholka’s bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Lawmakers want to take the wind out of off-shore turbine sails


Capital News Service

LANSING – Proposed legislation could keep wind turbines out of the Great Lakes, and that’s good – or bad – depending on perspective.

The sponsor, Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, said the intent is to keep potential hazards out of the blue waters of the Great Lakes.

“It’s not environmentally sound to have machines like these on our lakes. They are our greatest asset, and industrialization on them is a hazard to nature and the economy,” Franz said.

The permanent nature of wind turbines and related structures creates problems not only for the environment, but also for ships, he said.

“If the basic structures are permanently fixed to the lake floor, it would be an obstacle for ships to sail around and create more dangers for them to deal with,” Franz said.

Aesthetic concerns are also a problem and a majority of residents in his northwest Lower Peninsula district oppose off-shore wind development, he said.

“My district is home to one of the longest shorelines of any in the state. People don’t want their view blocked by these big structures,” Franz said.

But Hugh McDiarmid, communications director at the Michigan Environmental Council, said the proposed ban would be bad for the economy and environment.

“It’s bad public policy. Renewable energy like this has been one of the only bright spots for Michigan in recent years, and this is the wrong message to send,” McDiarmid said.

He said that wind energy is a growing industry in the state and a ban could stunt that growth.

A recent report by the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago said 120 companies in Michigan were part of the wind industry supply chain as of March.

The report also said there are more than 4,000 jobs tied to the state’s wind industry.

The Renewable Portfolio Standard signed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2008, requires that 10 percent of a utility’s electric supply come from renewable energy sources by 2015.

McDiarmid said, “Wind power is one of the primary ways utility companies will reach that goal. This proposal would seriously hinder their efforts.”

A February report from the Public Service Commission said that renewable sources produced 3.6 percent of the states power in 2009, an increase from 2.9 percent in 2007.

The report said that the proportion of renewable energy is expected to “increase significantly,” with almost 93 percent of the anticipated increase coming through wind power.

While wind development isn’t exclusively done on the Great Lakes, McDiarmid said off-shore turbines would create more energy than those on land.

“Lakes are better for capturing wind, which makes off-shore development a lot more lucrative,” McDiarmid said.

However, he acknowledged that off-shore turbines raise concerns different from those on land.

“It’s a bit more expensive to put them off-shore and it’s more dangerous for the people involved and the environment when you’re building in water,” McDiarmid said.

He said that aesthetics are another problem with off-shore wind development but that the legislation wouldn’t be the right solution.

“We are very supportive of wind energy but not in scenic or protected areas. More guidelines are necessary, but to say no wind at all is a very short-sighted solution,” McDiarmid said.

Mark Clevey, manager of the renewable energy program at the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said that off-shore wind development in the state is still in the planning stages.

“There are virtually no off-shore projects as of right now because research still needs to be done,” Clevey said.

According to Clevey, there is not enough information available about wind speed on the Great Lakes, which would help determine where to place wind farms. Also, he said there is uncertainty about how the turbines would be fixed to the floor of the lakes. Floating platforms are being discussed also.

However, Clevey said the chances are still good that wind farms will pop up in the Great Lakes in the near future.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jon Bumstead, R-Newaygo, is in the House Energy and Technology Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Uncategorized

Pot growers seek tips for greener grass

Capital News Service

LANSING – Greener pastures are in sight for medical marijuana growers wanting expert advice on how to raise healthy plants.

Inquiries on how to cultivate the plant have increased slightly in the past few years, Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) experts say.

MSUE, which is mainly involved in more traditional agricultural endeavors, is a resource for some medical marijuana suppliers who want accurate information on how to grow the plants effectively.

Jeanne Himmelein, an Extension educator based in Kalamazoo, works with state greenhouses and nurseries on production and environmental quality. She said she has received only five marijuana-related calls in the past two years.

“The people that call me are very educated in regards to growing this. They are not hobbyists.

“They are licensed to produce their own medical marijuana. Strictly the calls I get are production issues, from people who are licensed growers,” she said.

The primary questions that concern her callers are about insect and disease control. For answers, she directs them to biological control suppliers.

“If this is a business and a medical thing, I am comfortable with giving them as much information as possible on insect control and nutritional advice,” she said. “I just want them to do it the safest way.

“I’m impressed with the people asking about insect and disease control instead of going to a local nursery and grabbing something off the shelf,” she said.

An upcoming bulletin from MSUE, “Growing Indoor Plants,” will educate readers on techniques for keeping house plants, such as optimal light conditions and basics of nutrition.

The bulletin, Himmelein said, will not specifically be for medical marijuana growers but “would be a decent guide for anyone growing any type of indoor plant.”

That procedure is more open than the one Colorado State University Extension employs. It prohibits staff and volunteers from providing any advice or assistance about marijuana cultivation, although medical marijuana is legal in Colorado.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a critic of marijuana legalization, said he has no problem with MSUE providing advice, but would like it also to provide information on the possible hazards from mold and chemicals.

“They should be giving advice on dangers. Many growers in this new agricultural industry see dollar signs, but don’t realize it is a product for patients with damaged immune systems,” he said.

Having received about seven calls since medical marijuana became legal in Michigan, MSUE senior educator Thomas Dudek said he tries to relay basic information on plant physiology to first-time growers.

“People need to have a fairly good knowledge of fertilizer, irrigation and growing media,” said Dudek, a horticulture and marketing expert based in Ottawa County.

He takes existing information about growing other indoor plants and adapts it to the situation when answering such calls.

“Obviously we’re a land grant university that creates knowledge for people in businesses. If we have a business for growing plants, then you tend to look at MSU as a resource for that type of information,” he said.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said many entrepreneurs starting medical marijuana businesses are senior citizens going into retirement.

That’s true in Michigan, said Michigan NORML Executive Director Steve Thompson, who is based in Eastpointe.

He said today’s retirees grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and many of these entrepreneurs have had experience with cannabis.

“A lot of senior citizens are like myself — they’re hippies. We started this so it’s time we finish it,” he said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Agriculture

Touring arts grants shrink but still vital

Capital News Service

LANSING — As the state’s budget shrinks, money to support arts programs is harder to come by.

The number of grants that once supported thousands of cultural activities, like those awarded as part of the Michigan’s Arts & Humanities Touring Program, have been drastically reduced.

The program, a partnership between the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC), supports nonprofit organizations by covering up to 40 percent of the expenses for touring performers, artists and exhibitors.

This year, the program administered by MHC provided $56,823 for 112 programs.

In Ann Arbor, Dicken Elementary School received $842 for two assembly shows; in Royal Oak, Addams Elementary School received $660 for a dance program and Upton Elementary School received $238 for a music performance. Bishop Kelley Catholic School in Lapeer received $600 for a circus program; and in Petoskey, the Crooked Tree Arts Council got $960 for a concert.

During the height of the program in the 2000s, the MHC received around $150,000 for grants, said Phyllis Rathbun, touring program administrator for the MHC.

“We used to get well over 400 applications and we used to fund between 350 and 400 programs,” she said.

That practice, however, slowed in the mid-2000s when its funding was cut to around $65,000, according to Rathbun.

Now, she said, the MHC receives around $45,000 from the Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the rest of its money comes through the organization’s own nonprofit dollars, including $1,850 donated for the touring program.

Rathbun said that the MHC does what it can to sustain the program despite budget cuts because it’s popular among nonprofit groups and promotes economic development.

“Many of the cities and recreation programs have festivals or concerts in the park. It brings a lot of people into the city, and that always provides economic benefits to an area,” she said.

Performers in the touring program are contracted to do fewer performances now, but the grants still bring economic benefits to them as well, she said.

For a school, library or community organization to receive funding, a performer must be registered in the touring program, which accepts artists every three years.

Brainstormers!, a children’s theater show based in Royal Oak that motivates and encourages creative writing, has been involved in the touring program for almost 15 years, according to its founder, Geoff Safron.

Safron said that while his company may be criticized as an unnecessary curriculum addition, Brainstormers! adds value to a child’s learning experience.

“What we do is admittedly a luxury item. We’re what schools call enrichment programs — we aren’t part of the core education, but we add that extra layer of fun or elevated theatrics and learning combined that schools find useful,” he said.

The program uses professional actors and improvisational theater to spark the writing process by showing children that virtually any idea is useful in creating a story. The program celebrates students’ writing by performing on stage the stories that they write.

He said the touring program grant provides crucial funding for some of his clients, but he’s also looking into other grants for schools, corporate grants and scholarships.

“Even when the granting program is in full force with the MHC, the funding is finite. Their cycles are such that when the money is gone, that grant cycle is over and then there’s a period before the next one begins.”

“In those lapses we need other sources to offer to schools,” he said.

While grants for this cycle are already gone, the MHC will begin accepting grant applications on Oct. 1.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Uncategorized

State may toughen penalties for mortgage fraud

Capital News Service

LANSING – Legislation has been proposed to make residential mortgage fraud a distinct crime in Michigan.

The lead sponsor, Rep. John Walsh, R-Livonia, wants to add sentencing guidelines that would explicitly address mortgage fraud.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, a co-sponsor of the proposal, said the changes would make penalties more severe.

Michigan is among 10 states with the most incidents of mortgage fraud, Tlaib said, and current statutes aren’t aggressive enough to combat such fraud.

In the past, prosecutors were limited to using embezzlement and false pretenses laws in mortgage fraud cases, but those laws are not a strong enough deterrent, Tlaib said.

The proposal should provide tools needed to deter such fraud, she said.

Tlaib said in the past four to five years, prosecutors reported that mortgage fraud has become an epidemic and some violators have been charged for creating schemes targeting victims who lose their homes as a result.

Attorney General Bill Schuette announced that Joella Britton of Eagle and Nicole Otis of Lansing were charged with false pretenses, a felony that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

The women provided false information to a lender when they bought a home from a couple struggling with mortgage payments, said Joy Yearout, director of communication for the attorney general.

Britton and Otis offered to buy the house and sell it back to the victims, claiming their credit was good enough to purchase a house. Instead, Otis stopped making mortgage payments, causing foreclosure, according to the charges.

Last year the Attorney General’s office filed 19 complaints and 69 charges against Michigan companies and individuals from Grand Rapids, Charlotte, Livonia and Howell among other places for illegally charging upfront fees to modify mortgages, Yearout said.

Other recent cases include homeowners getting property appraisals for far more than their property is worth to receive larger loans.

Mortgage fraud can also violate the federal law.

For example, in November Larry Rask and Terry Ann Rask of Kalamazoo were charged in federal court with laundering money relating to mortgage fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Rapids.

The couple purchased 25 residences in Kalamazoo, overstated income to receive higher loans and borrowed $121,600 from a bank, prosecutors said.

Co-sponsors of the residential mortgage fraud bill include Reps. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City; Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids; Lesia Liss, D-Warren; and Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit.

The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Union wants more parental involvement in schools

Capital News Service

LANSING— A new proposal that would allow parents to become more involved with their child’s education without risk of losing their jobs would improve educational performance, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
The MEA has called for “parental involvement in education” legislation, said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the state’s largest union of school employees.
“The act would require employers to release employees who are parents or guardians of school-aged children to allow them to attend parent-teacher conferences,” Pratt said.
Pratt said that parents and guardians of students should be able to leave work to be involved in their child’s education.
“We are not suggesting that the employer has to pay for the time off, although that would be a very socially responsible thing for them to do,” Pratt said.  “What we are saying is that they can’t penalize employees who can prove that, a few times per year, they are attending parent-teacher conferences or engaging in other critical school interactions.”
Pratt says “critical parent-teacher interactions” include special education, guidance counselor sessions and disciplinary meetings.
Paul Duby, associate vice president for institutional research at Northern Michigan University, said parental involvement is necessary in a student’s life.
“Anytime a parent is involved with their child’s education, it gives the student positive reinforcement,” Duby said.
According to Duby, schools should encourage parents to be involved as much as possible, or else their children may be less motivated.
“My whole educational career is based on positive reinforcement, which is why it’s necessary for teachers and parents to be part of the student’s lives,” Duby said.
Northern Michigan trains and encourages future teachers to communicate with parents from early in the education system, said Duby.
“Teachers and parents have to be there for the students, and we teach that message throughout our teacher education program,” Duby said.
According to Pratt, the MEA is especially concerned about parents who are lower-wage, hourly workers who don’t get much personal vacation time and could lose their jobs if they miss work to attend school functions.
“No one should get fired from their job for wanting to take an active role in their child’s education,” Pratt said.
Iris Salters, president of the MEA, said the purpose of the proposal is to fix how the state takes care of students and teachers.
“Legislators don’t understand what it is like for single-parent families to be involved in their child’s education, so we are doing what we can to improve that relationship,” Salters said.
According to Salters, changes in education should be collective, children have to start doing well early in their education and parental involvement provides a good foundation.
Pratt said, parental involvement is one of the best indicators for success in students.
“They can hold their child accountable for homework and discipline and reinforce school lessons in a home environment. Without basic communication between parents and educators, students can be at a significant disadvantage,” Pratt said.
Pratt said the concept is not in bill form yet, but MEA is looking for lawmakers to introduce the legislation.
(c) 2011 Capital News Service, Michigan State University. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Filed under: Education

More federal greenbacks to back more greens in schools

Capital News Service

LANSING — The fruits of a national drive to promote healthy eating habits in children will soon be enjoyed in more Michigan schools.

Starting with the 2011-2012 school year, cafeterias will serve more fresh fruits and produce as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said the program will both provide a ready market for growers and relieve some of the stresses associated with food costs for many families.

The state will receive more than $4 million in federal funding for the 2011-2012 school year.

“The program teaches our kids how to eat healthy and keeps them nourished throughout the school day so they can focus on what’s important,” said Stabenow, who is chair of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The program began on a trial basis in four states to determine the best practices for increasing fruit and fresh vegetable consumption in schools.  It expanded nationwide in select low-income elementary schools.

It’s also intended to combat obesity in children.

Obesity among 6 to 11-year-olds increased from 6.5 percent in 1980 to almost 20 percent in 2008 and rose to 18 percent from 5 percent among teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Michigan ranks 25th among the states in its child obesity rate with 30 percent either overweight or obese.

The state’s allocation comes from a national $158 million in assistance for state agencies.

Last year, 133 elementary schools in Michigan were picked on the basis of the number of children eligible for free and reduced-cost meals, said Howard Leikert, state supervisor for the School Nutrition Program in the Department of Education.

Patti Miller, food service director for the Sturgis Public Schools, said that although it’s too early to notice any changes in children’s weight, she’s observed a change in eating habits among the 900 participants in the district.

“At first the kids didn’t care about things like radishes and broccoli, but with time we are seeing less and less vegetables left over,” she said.  “The program is certainly allowing the kids to try many vegetables that they’d never have liked and liking them.”

Miller gets her schools’ supplies from a Grand Rapids company, because of its “fair prices,” then applies for reimbursement from the Department of Education.

“This is a much better deal instead of parents having to bring snacks to school, which may not always be a better option for the kids,” she said.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Education

Student gambling common on campuses, study finds

Capital News Service

LANSING—About three-quarters of college students in the United States gambled during the past year, with about 18 percent gambling weekly or more often, according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

But the prevalence of gambling hasn’t triggered a flood of student requests for professional advice to control their habit, Michigan campus experts said.

Tom Liszewski, a counselor at Ferris State University, said, “Not a lot of students come to our center for counseling about gambling.”

For students who do need help for a gambling problem, Liszewski said he talks about “love, livelihood, legal and health” standards to judge if it has already affected their lives.

“We will discuss with them whether the gambling problem affects their relationship with parents and boyfriends or girlfriends.” That is what “love” means.

“Livelihood means that the students spend time gambling and don’t have time to study, which should be their priority,” he said.

He added that gambling can also hurt students’ health.

Liszewski listed five stages of gambling addiction. The first is precontemplation, which means people don’t yet acknowledge that they need to change their behavior.

The second stage is contemplation, which means people are aware of the problem but are not ready or are unsure about wanting to change.

He added that most of his clients are in the second stage. “Some students came here because their parents or friends told them they had a gambling problem, and they started to acknowledge that and came to us.”

The other three stages are preparation, which means getting ready to change; action, which means they’re changing their behavior; and maintenance, which means they’re continuing their changed behavior.

“If we find that they had a severe problem, we would recommend that they go to the Gamblers Anonymous meetings in our community,” he said. “We don’t have these kinds of meetings at our university, but it’s good for them to attend.”

He emphasized that the best way to prevent students from becoming addicted to gambling is to make them pay attention to other meaningful activities, such as cooking, exercising, listening to music and going to religious services.

Ed Huebner, a senior counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Service at University of Michigan, said, “When students come to us, we discuss how much money they spent on gambling and what motivates them to gamble to judge how severe their problems are.

“We have specialist staff who deals with addiction,” he said. If the addiction is severe enough, students are referred to community meetings.

There are no Gamblers Anonymous groups at U-M, but the community has some, he added.

According to Gamblers Anonymous, Michigan has more than 44 meetings every week. Some are only for people with gambling problems, and others also welcome gamblers’ spouses, families and friends to attend.

Locations include Lansing, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Ann Arbor, Marquette and Jackson.

Lotteries, card games, charitable small stakes gambling, sports betting and games of skill are college students’ most frequently chosen activities, according to, operated by the National Center for Responsible Gaming in Washington, D.C.

Although gambling is popular on campuses, only 22 percent of U.S. colleges and universities have formal policies on gambling, according to the organization.

U-M, Ferris State, Grand Valley State, Eastern Michigan and Michigan Technological universities are among those with written policies that prohibit student gambling on campus. also said student athletes and sports fans gamble more than other students.

Ann Vollano, assistant athletic director at U-M, said she and a colleague did a study that showed the three most popular gambling activities for student athletes are casinos, slot or other gambling machines, and playing cards for money.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.


Filed under: Uncategorized

Earn teaching degree, leave Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING –With a tough job market in Michigan, many graduates of teacher education programs are crossing state lines to find employment.

Roughly 5,000 of the 7,500 annual graduates of college education programs leave the state, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).

However, Frank Ciloski, a consultant for the MEA, said that departing graduates aren’t guaranteed jobs elsewhere as most states tighten their belts. “The market for teachers has been declining for the past couple of years, primarily because of the reduction in states’ budgets.”

There are 34 public and private colleges with teacher education programs in Michigan, according to the Department of Education.

Renee Papelian, director of professional education at Central Michigan University, said the in-state market has shrunk, especially this year with the proposed $470 per-pupil cuts in aid to public schools.

“It’s a challenging job market for teachers,” Papelian said. “The exact financial amount of funding per pupil hasn’t been solidified, so it makes it difficult for schools to confirm a budget.”

However, Papelian said that many of her university’s 570 annual education graduates landed jobs in southern states like North Carolina, Texas and Florida.

Nikki Piirala, a 2009 Central Michigan graduate, said she found a job teaching high school English with relative ease in Raleigh, N.C.

According to Piirala, who is from Grand Rapids, her decision to move came after she heard of other alumni finding employment in the area.

Piirala said she began to look out of state when Cedar Springs Middle School, where she student taught, started to lay off teachers.

“I didn’t have any other connections,” Piirala said. “And if you don’t have a connection in education in Michigan, it’s pretty hard to find a job.”

Unlike some fellow graduates who stayed in Michigan, Piirala said her job security appears stable because of a population increase in the Raleigh area.

Pirrala also said her alma mater’s reputation helped. Recruiters “do look for our teaching programs. I’ve been told by people hiring Central Michigan graduates that they have been very impressed with our teaching styles.”

According to Ciloski, many out-of-state districts recruit in Michigan. “We have a reputation of solid teacher prep programs and an excess number of teachers we can employ.”

Ciloski said with graduates leaving the state, Michigan’s education system is losing talent it could hire from.

This is “primarily an issue of economics,” Ciloski said, and the state needs to increase education funding to keep graduates here.

Michelle Johnston, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Ferris State University, said some of her graduates have successfully looked for jobs in Michigan.

Johnston said Ferris, with about 100 teacher education graduates per year, has an advantage in keeping them in the state.

“We are smaller, so we are able to have one-on-one relationships with people,” Johnston said.

Johnston said that the smaller graduating class size allows her to recommend students to districts that have openings.

Even with success in placing students in state, Johnston said there “is a little bit of a brain drain” and that graduates need to be enticed to stay in Michigan with more jobs and job security.

Johnston said that with proposed budget cuts on the horizon, job prospects for newly minted teachers is even more uncertain.

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.



Filed under: Education

Where inmates ‘live’ could affect redistricting

Capital News Service
​LANSING – When lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional district lines this year, it’s unlikely that Michigan’s nearly 46,000 prison inmates will come to mind.
​But there’s a question as to whether to count them where they currently live – in prison – or in the community where they lived prior to incarceration.
​Prisoners in Michigan are now counted at the address where they spend most of their time.
​Although felons behind bars cannot vote in elections in Michigan, counting them as residents can inflate the population of districts with prisons.
​With state House districts of about 90,000 residents and Senate districts of about 260,000 residents, counting them at their last known address could alter representation and have an impact on the partisan breakdown of the Legislature for future elections.
​The new lines will take effect for the 2012 elections.
​In New York, Delaware and Maryland, however, prisoners are counted at their last known address.
​William Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a weekly political newsletter, said he couldn’t see the practice in some East Coast states being adopted in Michigan anytime soon.
​Wayne County Democrats, he said, simply don’t have the leverage to push through that kind of a change.
​Ballenger said he doubts there would be a sizable impact on representation if a change occurs, but it could have a potentially sizable impact on federal funding nearly immediately.
​While a change in counting prisoners at their last known address isn’t likely in the current political climate, were it to be approved, implementation might not be difficult.
​John Cordell, a public information specialist for the Department of Corrections, said prisons aren’t always provided a last known address, but such situations are uncommon.
​He said the emergency contacts prisoners provide could make it easier to gather that information.
​“Whether those prisoners were counted in terms of the Census would have no significant impact on our operations,” he said.
​Overall, the 2010 Census found that 39 of Michigan’s 83 counties lost population over the previous decade. Detroit’s loss of 25 percent of residents between 2000 and 2010 contributed to Wayne County losing 11.7 percent of its population.
​According to Cordell, Wayne County sends the most inmates to the state prison system, followed by Oakland, Genesee and Kent counties. While Wayne County hosts two correctional facilities, Oakland, Genesee, and Kent have none.  
​Gratiot County, which has the largest single state prison, Central Michigan Correctional Facility, with nearly 2,400 inmates, had a Census population increase of 0.4 percent since 2000.
​State Prisons in Jackson, Ionia, Chippewa and Gratiot counties house the most inmates in the system, according to Cordell.
​Ballenger said the political shifts would be hard for politicians to analyze.
​“A long-term policy would be needed to yield results,” he said. “It’s like turning an ocean liner around.”
​“If we were starting from scratch, I might say it makes more sense for prisoners to be counted at their last known address,” he said, “but that is not the law.”

Filed under: Politics

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