The MDOC disintegrates in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic
by Rand Gould
Like its prisons, the oft-kicked can, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), is in an advanced – and rapidly escalating – state of disintegration, confirming the ‘60s revolutionary slogan, “the system will eat itself.” A recent report indicates its prisons alone are in need of more than $255 million in infrastructure repairs, according to “DOC finds problems with its own report” by Paul Egan in the Times Herald on Dec. 27, 2021.
The MDOC will need even more taxpayer dollars if it intends to address the extreme staffing shortfall it faces in terms of quantity and quality, with over 1,000 unfilled guard positions, as it continues operating its prisons at twice their designed capacity, i.e., “double-bunked,” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in flagrant violation of its policy on the control of communicable diseases, PD 03.04.110 and the state laws it seeks to enforce: MCL 333.28436, MCL 333.5101 et seq., and MCL 408.1001 et seq., as well as prisoners’ human right to be treated decently, with the same standards of healthcare as the rest of the community.
The MDOC has arrived at this sorry state of affairs through a decades-long series of poorly thought-out decisions made by state politicians, or “politricksters” if you will, both Democrats and Republicans, only concerned with short-term solutions in furtherance of their political careers and personal financial gains. In sum, they kicked the MDOC can down the road over and over again until, today, it has reached the end of the road.
First, in the late 1960s, these politicians went all-in on then-president Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” which was an integral part of and smokescreen for J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO. An operation designed to enhance the police state through militarization in order to turn urban communities into warzones, while simultaneously taking down the Black Panther Party [for Self Defense], the Brown Berets, the Young Lords Party, Students for a Democratic Society and other like-minded revolutionary organizations, resulting in a massive influx of people into prisons in Michigan and across the country.
This “War on Drugs” was never directed at the big pharmaceutical corporations, aka “Big Pharma,” and, in fact, directly supported the profits of these death merchants responsible for the current opioid epidemic.
These politicians went all-in on then-president Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” which was an integral part of and smokescreen for J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO.
Second, beginning in the late 1960s, they ran for election on the now infamous “tough on crime” platforms and, once elected, passed laws that enhanced sentences and facilitated the passage of ballot “Proposal B” in 1978, which eliminated “good time” credits for sentence reductions. This, when combined with the “War on Drugs,” jam-packed Michigan prisons and jails almost overnight – more people coming in, fewer going out – resulting in the MDOC purchasing or leasing anything standing that could conceivably be used as a prison: mothballed military bases (Kincheloe AFB), long-closed and condemned prisons (Detroit House of Corrections), old mental hospitals (Riverside and Newberry), even an abandoned old monastery on the shores of Lake Michigan (Dunes).
Third, in the mid-1980s, they began issuing state bonds to finance a massive prison building program, resulting in over 30 new prisons, including 10 so-called “temporary facilities” (i.e., pole barns), and the expansion of existing prisons. They gave no consideration whatsoever to the equally massive operating costs of all these prisons going forward, including the interest to be paid on the bonds, interest payments which were of questionable legality in light of the Michigan Constitution of 1963’s balanced-budget mandate that does not allow the carry-over of debt from one fiscal year to the next.
Fourth, by the end of 1980s, almost all of MDOC’s prisons were operating at twice their designed capacity, i.e., double-bunked, with no corresponding expansion of infrastructure – toilets, showers, sinks, ventilation, phones, dining-halls, etc. The last of these new prisons to be built and opened – St. Louis CF, Pine River CF and Bellamy Creek CF – were also promptly double-bunked upon opening at the end of the 1990s, early 2000s, in order to keep pace with the rapidly increasing prisoner population.
Fifth, in the late 1990s, these politicians ended pensions and reduced pay for new hires and offered buy-outs to MDOC employees with pensions in the early 2000s in an effort to cut bloated payroll costs to help stem the financial bleed-out caused by the huge increase in employees required to run this ridiculously unnecessary and massive prison system they created for no other reason than political expediency – that is, their re-election on a “tough on crime” platform that fanned the public’s fear of a non-existent crime wave.
This massive prison bloat saddled the MDOC with a near $2 billion a year operating budget as far back as 2007 . . .
Sixth, in the early 2000s, they began privatizing as many MDOC operations as possible, including healthcare, prisoner stores, food service, etc. They even made a deal with Wackenhut, now GEO Group, to build and operate a youth prison at Baldwin, which was an epic fail. As we now know, these were all efforts at privatization in Michigan prisons and across the country, which only served to enrich corporations at the expense of taxpayers and the health and well-being of prisoners.
Currently, Michigan prisoners no longer receive annual medical screenings, not even for TB, dental and optical examinations, with treatment for diagnosed issues delayed for years in many cases. This writer waited for six years for a hernia repair, another prisoner waited for 11 and is still waiting, since December 2020, for a proper diagnosis and treatment for his long-haul COVID symptoms, including paresthesia in his hands and feet, having finally, this January 2022, received an EMG confirming nerve damage in, at least, his lower-left leg.
This massive prison bloat saddled the MDOC with a near $2 billion a year operating budget as far back as 2007, when Gov. Granholm began closing and/or combining the operations of the MDOC’s 63 prisons and camps, which housed over 52,000 prisoners. Today, with only 28 prisons and just over 32,000 prisoners, the MDOC’s annual budget is just over $2 billion, as it has been for years, with the exception of 2020, when it appears it went over $2.3 billion (n.b., hard to nail down due to the juggling of the books) due to the COVID-19 pandemic and federal CARES Act funds.
Nevertheless, with all this money, its prisons are falling apart, with Michigan Reformatory built at the end of the 19th century and many of its newest prisons being pole barns erected on cement slabs in the 1990s as “Temporary Facilities” in even worse shape, without fire suppression systems and infested with black mold.
The only plausible explanation for closing units and not prisons is to preserve high-ranking MDOC officials’ jobs, because when a prison closes, there is no longer a need for a warden, a deputy warden, assistant deputy wardens, a business manager, a plant manager etc. and all their subordinate minions.
Currently, as the prison population decreases, the MDOC is shutting down multiple units within prisons but not the prisons. For example, Carson City CF has closed three of its 34 pole barns, or six units, and all four pole barns of Chippewa CF are closed. This makes no sense in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as units should be kept open in order to end double-bunking and enable the practice of 6-foot social distancing required by the most recent CDC guidelines for control of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, which the MDOC has never been in compliance with despite Director Heidi Washington’s numerous fraudulent Director’s Office Memorandums requiring 6-foot social distancing that she well knows can’t be practiced or enforced.
The only plausible explanation for closing units and not prisons is to preserve high-ranking MDOC officials’ jobs, because when a prison closes, there is no longer a need for a warden, a deputy warden, assistant deputy wardens, a business manager, a plant manager, etc., and all their subordinate minions.
In other words, due to this blatant cronyism, state taxpayers are being stuck with the bill for a whole lot of unnecessary administrative employees when these funds could be better used to provide the guards raises and pensions to incentivize them. That would enable new hires to see the MDOC as a career and fill the over 1,000 violent positions, so the closed units can be reopened, double-bunking ended, and prisons can stop being incubators, where 89 percent of current staff remain unvaccinated and untested upon entry. Go to prisonpolicy.org/virus.
The public may not want to know any of this. They may want to go on blindly paying taxes for a massive police state out of fear of all these state-created “criminals.” After all, the media keeps telling them the murder rate is increasing at an alarming rate. What the media doesn’t tell them is that over 90 percent of murder victims know their killers; fewer than 10 percent of the exceptions are usually the police killing members of the public. Thus, the public would be much better off being afraid of these killer kops and the unvaccinated MDOC staff they come in contact with daily when their shifts end in the can.
Send our brother some love and light: Rand W. Gould, C-187131, Central Michigan CF, 320 N Hubbard St., St. Louis, MI 48880. And read his work at www.freerandgould.com.