On Thursday, October 3, 2019, at Central Methodist Church in Traverse City, the public met with members of the criminal legal system. The discussion included how our local law enforcement works, what isn’t working as well as it might, and what should be done to improve it.
Before During and After Incarceration, a local group, hosted the event moderated by Ron Jolly. Local judges, attorneys, the jail Chaplain and a member of the ACLU all had something important to add.
Toni Stanfield, one of the co-founders of BDAI and a board member, began by talking about the services this group offers. There are many reasons why an individual may end up in front of a judge, but mental illness is seen most frequently. She wants ‘pre-booking’ interactions by a staff trained to deal with mental illness. Because of government budget cuts, mental patients no longer have residential or community services available to them and frequently end up in jail. BDAI trains volunteer coaches to work with those going through the judicial system.
Tom Bousamra, Chaplain at the jail, asked very important questions as he began to speak – How do we want those recently released from prison to come back to our communities? What needs to be done to help prepare them to transition into a productive life? Many inmates just need counseling and job training; others may actually need a place to live.
The Keynote speaker was Hakim Crampton. He spent 15 years incarcerated for a murder he didn’t commit. While he was in prison, he worked to get social services and education in to the prison to work with him and other inmates, preparing them for discharge. He was denied parole because he refused to accept responsibility for the crime he didn’t commit! After being freed through the work of the Innocence Project he went on to be a part of the Governor’s Michigan Indigent Defense Commission.
Sean Worden, a well-known defense attorney, told the crowd he starts all his interviews with, “I’m one of the good guys.” He shared that most of the people he visits don’t trust that anyone in the legal system will look out for them.
Statistics show that 7-10% of all those incarcerated have been wrongly convicted. Only 5% of those arrested in the Grand Traverse area actually go to trial – they plead to some lesser charge because they cannot afford bail.
Anna Dituri, regional field manager of the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign, shared that 80% of crimes have some sort of alcohol or drug abuse and 65% of local inmates have mental health issues. She stressed that there is a need for more ‘prosecutorial discretion’, that the prosecutor has the power to individualize sentences based on mitigating circumstances. Diversion programs, providing counseling and treatments, greatly decrease rates of recidivism.
There was a panel discussion with Judges Stepka and Cooney, Chuck Welsh of the Department of Corrections, and Dituri. Cooney stated that the Prosecutors are the gatekeepers for treatment courts and have absolute discretion to offer a ‘delay of sentence’ or ‘deferred sentence’ while diversion activities are provided. Welsh works with probation services to help released inmates have a smooth transition back into their community. Dituri insisted that no individual be responsible for paying for pretrial testing. Low-income people are forced into what is basically a debtor’s prison.
Hakim returned to the microphone to speak more about the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission’s goals – set in place standards to ensure adequate defense for all people before the courts, provide council for all people prior to going before a judge, and advocate for justice in our criminal legal system. He has recently set up the #WORKINGfuture program, a campaign to restore the civil and human rights of people with records and formerly incarcerated people.
Dituri spoke again about how the Smart Justice Campaign is working to decrease the incarceration rate in our county by 50% by 2022, make much needed changes in the bond, bail and sentencing policies, demand prosecutorial discretion be returned to put diversion actions in place, and to eliminate racism from the legal system.
To end the program, Dave Clinton of BDAI spoke about the Wednesday evening support dinners the group provided. They provide classes like anger management and anatomy of addiction.
For more information about BDAI – www.facebook.com/BDAIncarceration, www.bdaiconnect.org/
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about #WORKINGfuture –
Contact Hakim Crampton at email@example.com