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Friday, August 27, 2010

Justice--or Power Plays?

by Joyce Gouwens

Once again Mr. Cotter is playing to the grandstand. His recent attack on the Michigan Parole Board for releasing Donnell Williams was launched without checking the actual facts and figures, as was carefully pointed out in the Guest Column by Barbara Sampson, Chair of Michigan's Parole Board. Donnell was not released early as Mr. Cotter stated, and he could have requested that Donnell's release be denied by the board, but didn't. The Michigan Prison Re-entry program has made parolees much safer, and they become more productive citizens when they take part in making a careful plan for their release and are given a helping hand by the community. The longer a prisoner is incarcerated--especilly if in a maximum security prison--the less likely he or she will be to succeed outside the walls. The head of our federal prisons declared that after 10 years in a federal prison system few inmates returned to society without serious mental health problems.

Mr. Cotter has made not one, but two plays for publicity in the tragic case of Dakotah Eliason--a deeply troubled 14 year-old who was experiencing such intense anxiety that he vacillated between suicide and murder throughout the night. Mr. Cotter seems dumbfounded by Dakotah's statement that for five minutes after the crime his unbearable tension left him completely, but I believe that mental health professionals would find nothing strange about this temporary release, and certainly nothing sinister enough to rush the boy into adult court and then on to a life without parole. Why didn't he give mental health treatment in a secure setting a chance for several years before taking this drastic step. That would have given time to determine if this boy would be a threat to society. Crimes within a family usually are not a prediction of crimes against the general public. Spending money on extended treatment would have been a whole lot less expensive than his life in prison at $32,000 a year and rising. Try multiplying that by an expected life span of 50 years or so! And why did Mr. Cotter insist that the murder was premeditated when Dakotah's grandfather left a tempting gun out despite his wife's warning?

Boys in our prisons too often are claimed as "fresh meat" by older and stronger inmates, and are often bullied and beaten to amuse the other prisoners--and sometimes the guards, too. One 16 year-old Benton Harbor boy was beaten last year by three prisoners with a padlock tied in a sock, and has sustained permanent brain damage. If this jury had been able to talk with Michigan's 350 or so life-without-parole prisoners who were sentenced as juveniles to die in prison, they would have thought much longer over their final decision. No other nation in the world now uses this Draconian punishment for its youth, and no prosecutor should press the jury to approve it in order to prove his own power. The Eliason family had not given up on Dakotah. Why should we? They have now lost two members, not one. If Mr. Cotter thinks the public will praise him for this extreme sentence (now being made illegal in several states), I hope he will be greatly mistaken. We should all be outraged!