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  • Doug Tjapkes

Prisons aren’t built to be hospitals!

I’m starting to feel like Jeremiah! That feisty Old Testament prophet complained that nobody listened. Instead, his constant messages from heaven on pending violence and destruction here on earth simply got him insult and reproach. But, he says, “If I say I won’t do it anymore, his (God’s) word is in my heart like a fire...I can’t hold it in.” Jeremiah preached his message for 40 years and nobody listened. It's no wonder he was discouraged. Well, here’s Douger, the “Jeremiah” of bloggers, complaining once again about all the old people in prison. People who pose no threat to society, people who have paid their dues, many who are sick and dying...and all of this is costing us a fortune! I’m hoping someone will listen. I could just shut up, but it’s in my heart. (Maybe because I, too, am so old!) Conservative readers should at least identify with the cost issue, and seek change. But those of us who are more progressive must, instead, be lamenting the inhumanity of the whole situation. Something’s gotta happen! In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that nearly 21 percent of the nation’s prison population, or almost 300,000 people, were fifty or older. In our circles, fifty is no longer considered elderly. But when you’re behind bars, years of bad food, little exercises and poor health care take their toll. Right now, more than 8% of our state prisoners are 60 and older. Here’s something just as sure as taxes and death: With all the COVID issues, prisons will also face an explosion of geriatric needs—and the skyrocketing costs that come with it. Our staff will tell you that, even before the arrival of COVID-19, medical care in Michigan prisons has been typically inadequate, often bordering on life-threatening. HFP receives more than 300 complaints a month dealing with health-care! Stephanie Prost, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville who has extensively researched aging in prisons, understands how decades of tough-on-crime sentencing has led to prison wings that resemble long-term-care settings. She is quoted in The Progressive as saying, “Prisons aren’t built to be hospitals.” Prisoners, she notes, typically acquire serious and chronic health conditions at a younger age than people who are not incarcerated. Are there steps that can be taken? Of course there are! Instead of bickering about COVID restrictions and alleged election irregularities, it’s time for our state legislators to rethink life without parole and to do something about long, indeterminate sentences. More paroles are warranted. And it’s way past time for our Governor to consider clemency for aging and deserving inmates. Jeremiah asks: “Are you listening?” Douger asks: “What are you going to do about it?”

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