Fire in prison & State Employee Accountability Act (SEAA)

Pirkel, Daniel



Daniel Pirkel Richard A. Handlon Corr. Facility 1728 W. Bluewater Highway Ionia, Mi. 48846 APWA Re: Fire in prison & State Employee Accountability Act (SEAA) On December 27, 2019, there was a fire in my unit's basement (C-Unit) at around 9 PM. When the fire alarm sounded, prison staff made us lock down, which was a violation of MDOC policy as well as federal law. While I want to believe that this was a mistake, prisoners informed the officers that their rooms were filled with smoke to which the officer said, "crack a window." The institution denied my grievance stating that there was no fire; it was simply a short. They also claim that policy gave shift command the discretion to lock in our cells. However, policy gave him discretion to lock prisoners in their "unit," and this only makes sense if the policy writers intended to prevent prisoners from moving around the compound who locked in units that were not on fire. Furthermore, the amount of smoke this electrical "short" produced was hazardous in of itself. This entire incident evolves out MTU's institutional habit, as MTU seems to lock down prisoners as a reaction to all forms of "emergencies" including locking down the entire facility down when an ambulance enters the premises, regardless of the reason, something that most prisons in Michigan do not do. Furthermore, correctional officers enjoy locking the bathroom so that we cannot use it before the four hour emergency count drill ends, something that occurs every month. MDOC policy also enforces this mentality by requiring prisoners to be locked in their cells rather than allowing them to be in the hallway, something that every grade school kid is taught to do for safety. Incidents like these may technically reach the threshold of a successful lawsuit, but most prisoners have lost faith in the judicial process, as the courts regularly cover up the misconduct by refusing to investigate claims, or they rule that no significant damage occurred, so they award prisoners $1 for the months of litigation because the institution intentionally denied prisoners of their constitutional rights. they lack the financial resources to pay an attorney to litigate for them, the only practical way to attain relief. Many academics agree that their concerns are warranted (see below). In recent years, there has been some hope, as legislators have said that prison reform is one of the few places that has bipartisan support. However, new legislation will not make a real difference in people's lives without accountability inside of these systems. Rather than bore you with the details about the variety of ways that the MDOC oppresses prisoners like my self, I write to simply offer a solution. Michele Deitch, in "The Need for Independent Prison Oversight in a Post-PLRA World" (24 FED. SEnt'G REP. 236 [2012]), argues that states need to create independent prison oversight agencies, which would conduct regular inspections of all institutions and publicly issue findings and recommendations. Currently, grievances are practically useless, as they are heard by interdepartmental staff, which creates a conflict of interest. It would be very awkward to go to work everyday with someone who has a vendetta against you. My experience with both the courts and the grievance process indicates that these organizations have a complete disregard for prisoner rehabilitation and well-being. I have written grievances on everything from being denied toilet paper, the officer's refusal to allow me to use the bathroom for four hours, and it took them two and half hours to allow my family into the visiting room on a normal visiting day at a medium security facility. I was surprised that they apologized for the latter issue, but number of issues that I have seen simply equates to callousness. While it may be true that some prisoners have abused grievance and court procedures, plausible claims still deserve due process. The fact that this often does not occur within the MDOC implies that administrators are influenced by the retributive mindset, which is actually a danger to society. According to "How Norway Turns Criminals into Good Neighbours" (BBC News [July 7, 2019]), Norway reduced its recidivism rate from 70% to 20% when it changed its focus from retribution to rehabilitation. While the MDOC may have changed its goal to include rehabilitation, this change will not truly occur without accountability and more resources. The latter may be difficult to attain, but accountability will save money in the long run as it will reduce the conviction of innocent people and prevent recidivism. As many republicans have said, "Simply enforce the laws that are already on the books!" Yet, it takes objective decision makers to properly enforce the rules. Those with a retributive mindset cannot be objective. SEAA simply needs to move some of the internal accountability systems outside of the governmental organizations that they are in, and codify a variety of rules that makes the correctional system more just. Enclosed are a few ideas that SEAA could include. Being locked in a cell when there is smoke pouring through the vents reinforces my belief that we must become proactive in our approach to preventing people from being exploited by the system. I have sent this proposal to letter David LaGrand, Troy Reinstra of Safe and Just Michigan, and the ACLU. I am looking for help to promote the SEAA proposal. I hope you find this a worthy endeavor. If you personally would like my help on any projects, such as writing as article on a subject, do not hesitate to contact me (please place your contact information in the body of the letter, not just on the envelope). Sincerely, Daniel Pirkel 2-11-20 Date

Author: Pirkel, Daniel

Author Location: Michigan

Date: February 11, 2020

Genre: Essay

Extent: 2 pages

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