Cruel and Unusual Punishment? – MPT Musings
MPT Musings

Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

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Michigan Poor People’s Campaign calls attention to inhumane prison practices

by Ellie Bednarz, MPT Intern

On a bitterly cold Valentine’s Day, scores of people gathered at the State Capitol for a Moral Monday press conference and action organized by the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign (MI-PPC), Open Our Hearts to Our Incarcerated Neighbors. Organizers scheduled this event on Valentine’s Day as a reminder that St. Valentine, who ministered to the persecuted, experienced first-hand the indignities of imprisonment.

One of the event’s key organizers was MI-PPC Tri-Chair, Efren Paredes, Jr., who is currently incarcerated at the Lakeland Correctional Facility near Coldwater after receiving an unjust “life without possibility of parole” conviction when he was 15 years old.  Paredes has brought to the forefront just how harshly the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the prison population. Over 98 percent of Michigan’s 32, 200 inmates have tested positive for COVID, and 157 of them have died since the start of the pandemic. Paredes provided a written statement that was read by Meta Peace Team’s Kim Redigan, who is on the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign Coordinating Committee.  Paredes called for enforced social distancing, more KN95 masks, and an end to the practice of double-bunking within close quarters. Additional speakers from organizations working for criminal justice reform addressed ending life without parole sentences for minors, in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling, and passing “Good Time” laws that would reduce overcrowding and emphasize rehabilitation.

For those present on this cold February day, hearing the stories of the horrors that go on behind the prison walls was very eye-opening.  Black mold growing out of the walls and exposed asbestos are now leading causes of cancer for those imprisoned, but those concerns are either being overlooked or simply not addressed. The Michigan Poor People’s Campaign is calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to implement the 10-Point-Plan for Prison Reform authored by Paredes, and for Michigan’s citizens to advocate on behalf of those who are incarcerated by signing the online petition in support of the plan (see below). The press conference called on Michigan lawmakers to pass Senate Bills 848-851, which would abolish “juvenile life without the possibility of parole” sentencing (JLWOP). The introduced legislation would bring Michigan into alignment with 25 other states and the District of Columbia, which have already banned JLWOP or have no one serving a life-without-parole sentence who was convicted as a minor.

After speaking on the steps of the Capitol, activists, participants, and members of the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign marched to the Governor’s office, the Department of Corrections offices, and finally, the Department of Health and Human Services to present the 10-Point Action plan and letters calling for action.

To quote the rallying cry of this action, Somebody’s hurting my brother and sister… and it’s gone on far too long . . . And we won’t be silent anymore.

MPT was honored to be one of the event’s many co-sponsors. Here is a link to the 10-Point Plan Petition:  https://www.change.org/p/the-injustice-must-end-support-michigan-prison-reform?fbclid=IwAR3vMy9mmafmKDoCMhnk8IUGJkddeVSkAfWzdk0T1tnlYVtLoXaGnUZv6Cg

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