Throughout the week, Michigan’s lawmakers have been hard at work finalizing a state budget for next year. That budget is now complete, and it has some promising implications for people working for criminal justice reform.
This budget season, Safe & Just Michigan and partner organizations throughout the state embarked on a campaign to provide much-needed economic relief to incarcerated Michiganders and their loved ones.
While cash is not allowed in prisons, money is essential to prison life. Toiletries, over-the-counter medication, extra food, clothing, papers, pens, and stamps are all items that must be purchased by incarcerated Michiganders through the prison commissary. Because some of these items are critical to survival in prison, many incarcerated Michiganders either rely on the support from loved ones on the outside, go into debt in prison paying for them, or end up compromising their safety by becoming indebted to other incarcerated Michiganders in exploitative situations. If they incur any debt in prison, that prison debt follows released Michiganders out and becomes yet one more hurdle they must overcome as they navigate their transition back to the community.
Outside of prison, through deposit fees and phone fees, the loved ones of incarcerated Michiganders also pay onerous fees. These fees operate as a regressive tax, forcing those least able to pay to fund the justice system or the state budget at large. These fees, especially communication and deposit fees, also reduce the support they are providing to their incarcerated loved ones. It is important to remember that most incarcerated Michiganders will be released. The most significant factor to successful reentry into their communities is having strong, stable, and supportive relationships.
The bipartisan budget deal agreed to this morning includes language that requires the Michigan Department of Corrections to review and reduce some fees, such as deposit and phone fees, incurred by incarcerated Michiganders and their families.
We are also interested in reducing the $5 co-pay incarcerated Michiganders pay when they see a doctor in most situations. That may not sound like a lot to people on the outside, but most people in prison work jobs that pay just pennies an hour, so it can take most of a week to earn enough to cover a co-pay. That fee cannot be address through the budget process as the co-pay is explicitly written into law, and will require additional legislation to be reduced or removed. Safe & Just Michigan has developed a new fact sheet explaining why that needs to be done. You can find the fact sheet HERE.
We applaud our legislative champions, state Rep. Amos O’Neal (D-Saginaw) and state Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township), for advocating for this fee reduction language. we also wish to thank our partners: American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Citizens for Prison Reform, the Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC), Humanity for Prisoners, and the Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration (MI-CEMI) for their advocacy and support.