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  • Doug Tjapkes

No sunlight for prisoners. Not in this state!

In that this is Sunshine Week, a time when we are supposed to celebrate transparency in our government, we sadly report this: Michigan ranks last among all states in government transparency! The shameful fact is that both the Governor of the State of Michigan and our State Legislature are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. And, whenever you and I hear that, our first question should be: What are they hiding? But even more annoying to me is this: Michigan prisoners are not allowed to file requests under this act! Ours is only one of a handful of states with this ridiculous rule. Let me give you a couple examples of how prisoners can use the act. Many prisoners need “newly discovered evidence” to get their cases reopened. That can be accomplished with FOIA requests to prosecutors and police. Michigan won’t let them do it! Prisoners rejected by the Parole Board would like to know reasons behind that decision, so they can work on improvement. The only way to find how the Parole Board voted and why is to file a FOIA request. Michigan won’t let them do it! There are numerous other issues that require support by desire legal documents. The state argues that many prisoner requests are frivolous and responding to those requests is too costly. And so, while the law says all citizens are entitled to such information, our legislature adopted an amendment which says, in effect, that prisoners are not citizens! Some lawyers and some agencies will file FOIA requests on behalf of prisoners, but they charge for it. But, in many cases, lack of funds is the very reason why prisoners want to take this action on their own. I’m proud to say that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS provides this service to many Michigan prisoners, and we do it at no charge. Inmates are asked to pay expenses for copies. Last year we filed more than 500 requests for prisoners! This year, we’ve filed more than 150 already! These were legitimate requests, not frivolous, according to our team. Response to, and support for, our assistance in this field is overwhelming! But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There must be some way to reach a compromise, whereby some restrictions remain in place, but whereby prisoners are not denied “due process.” Sunshine Week is the perfect time for our lawmakers to rethink the issue.

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