Free Efren Orange Banner

Free Efren Orange Banner

Friday, September 9, 2011

Support Campaign to Lower Michigan Prisoner Phone Call Rates

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

In June 2011, the new contract for Michigan prisoner phone service began. The phone call rates nearly doubled, prisoners are now making fewer phone calls to members of the public, and they are being further isolated from society.

Consequently prisoners will have less contact with family and friends, who are a vital part of their survival and, in many cases, maintaining their sanity and sense of self-worth during their incarceration. The life line that the majority of prisoners cling to is slowly drifting away as they painfully witness the erosion of ties with family and friends.

The phone rate increases were unnecessary and avoidable. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC), however, awarded the prisoner phone contract to PCS, a phone company that charges higher rates than other companies for the identical security features they are providing to MDOC to monitor and control prisoner phone use.

To support the campaign to lower Michigan prisoner phone rates, you are encouraged to visit the link at the end of this post and sign the petition.

When you sign the petition, an e-mail opposing the rate increases will be sent on your behalf to Governor Rick Snyder, MDOC Director Dan Heyns, the Chairs of the Corrections Appropriations Committee, and your State Senator and Representative. The petition automatically identifies your state legislators based on your zip code.

If we do not lend our voices to this important campaign, the MDOC could earn $8 million and PCS could earn $3 million from the thousands of prisoners and members of the public being affected over the next four years.

Please share the petition link with others in e-mails, blog posts, and by posting it on Facebook and Twitter. The wider the circulation, the greater the impact. Support for this campaign is growing exponentially and dozens of those who have signed the petition have already received responses from their legislators.

Petition link:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Berrien County Prosecutor Lacks Accountability

by Efrén Paredes, Jr.

In the Fall of 2009 Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter dismissed 40 convictions because Benton  Harbor police manufactured evidence, conducted illegal searches, and wrongfully arrested people. 

At the time of the case dismissals, Cotter claimed to be reviewing many other cases involving possible police misconduct as well. Cotter defended the police by saying they “didn’t engage in misconduct in every case they did.”

In an August 28, 2009, Michigan Messenger article, Cotter was quoted as saying, “The problem is that everybody who had a case now wants review.”

Cotter has it all wrong however. The real problem is that he would have the audacity to make the latter statement knowing there are likely many other wrongful convictions that occurred under his watch. His inept office reviewed the 40 cases he dismissed before the suspects were arrested and subsequently convicted. Not only did errors abound with the arrests themselves, but the review process by Cotter’s office was riddled with errors as well. Cotter has offered no explanation as to how his office got the review process and prosecutions wrong 40 times.

Rather than be embarrassed by all the errors he is personally responsible for in the cases he dismissed, Cotter has attempted to eschew responsibility altogether.

The reality is that there are only two logical explanations of how so many cases were wrongly prosecuted by Cotter’s office: either he is totally incompetent, or he knowingly allowed it to occur, was complicit, and should be investigated for corruption.

Since Cotter admitted to dismissing the 40 wrongful convictions, he has not publicly shared the findings of the dozens of other cases involving possible police misconduct that he was allegedly reviewing. The print, television and radio media in the area have also not held Cotter accountable for his errors and have not reported about Cotter’s review of the cases he claimed to be conducting. As far as anyone knows, Cotter could be covering up his mistakes as part of his damage control.

The citizens of Berrien County deserve answers. They also deserve to be represented by a prosecutor’s office that cares as much about not committing errors that wrongly rob people of their freedom as it does about protecting the public from crime.

One thing is certain. A large number of Berrien Country voters have lost confidence and respect for Cotter and his office, and rightfully so. He has made many obvious mistakes with impunity, and his hubris prevents him from admitting it.

Voters will be able to express their discontent and restore integrity in the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office next election. The obvious answer for starters will be ensuring Cotter vacates his office.

Citizens shouldn’t keep paying the price for Cotter’s mistakes or malfeasance with their hard earned money or the loss of their liberty. I know firsthand what a heavy price citizens can pay for the mistakes of the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office. I’ve spent 22 years in prison so far to prove it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Follow Efren Uncaged on Twitter

The Injustice Must End (TIME) Committee to Free Efrén Paredes, Jr. has created a Twitter page named "Efrén Uncaged" to share Efrén's thoughts, interests and social activism.  The page can be viewed at:  Efrén Uncaged

There will be a broad range of subjects covered, including Latino politics, history, culture and identity; comprehensive immigration reform, education, juvenile life without parole sentences, life in prison, and other topics of interest.

Since entering the twittersphere, Efrén's posts have been read and shared by many.  He offers a unique perspective and important commentary about a host of current events, and he elects to employ honesty over political correctness.

Efrén's social justice and human rights activism spans the globe and is widely supported and recognized by those in the domestic and international communities.  His efforts have been instrumental in reducing violence, ending human rights violations, building institutions of learning, rallying support for or opposition to candidates of political office, and creating paradigm shifts for progressive change in society.

Please share Efrén's Twitter page with others via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter and ask them to do the same.  Help us advance Efrén's efforts to make meaningful contributions to humanity one tweet at a time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Efren Paredes, Jr., Support Video, produced by Mario Rocha

by Hans Koppenhoefer, Jr.

A new video supporting Efren's release was recently produced by his friend, supporter, and TIME Committee member, Mario Rocha

In Mario's description of the video he states: 

"Fasters hold a vigil for Efrén Paredes, Jr., who in 1989 was wrongly convicted and sentenced to three life terms, including two without the possibility of parole, in the State of Michigan. Today Efrén is 37-years-old and, in spite of his plight in the fatal hands of the state, devotes himself as a leader for peace, consciousness and youth justice. He writes extensively on issues related to human rights and actively promotes theoretical and practical alternatives to the dehumanizing exercise known as imprisonment."

The person on the phone that people in the video are speaking to is Efren.  He called Mario's phone at the event from a Michgian prison and was able to join participants in spirit.

We are grateful to Mario for producing the video and helping us continue bringing global attention to our campaign to free Efren.  As long as Efren remains in prison, none of us are free.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cotter’s criticisms are ironic, given his record

By Scott Elliott


In his Jan. 2 guest column, Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter says former Gov.
Jennifer Granholm’s criminal justice record was an unmitigated disaster. While I don’t entirely disagree with him, someone should point out that his own record has been far worse. He cites her last minute reversal of the commutation of Matthew Makowski’s sentence from a 1988 murder conviction as the final insult. Last year alone, Cotter was forced to reverse an astounding 43 convictions handled by his office. Cotter also continues to waste taxpayer money by meddling in areas he is neither qualified nor paid to deal with.

He is engaged in a campaign to discredit the Michigan Department of Corrections in the apparent hope of influencing appointments to top positions. I would not be surprised if he is pushing a promotion for his longtime crony, the infamous Steve Marschke, who is currently in charge of internal affairs for the state prison system.

Marschke was Cotter’s campaign manager in his failed run for a judgeship several years ago. Questions still linger about his involvement in what many believe to be the wrongful death of Eric McGinnis, a black Benton Harbor teenager whose 1991 drowning was described in Alex Kotlowitz’s book, “The Other Side of the River.”

Another mystery is Marschke’s interest in the case of Efren Paredes Jr., who was 15 when he was convicted in 1989 of robbery and murder and sentenced to three life terms, two without possibility of parole. His accusers all admitted their involvement in the crime, given leniency for their testimony and were all later imprisoned for other crimes. Neither Marschke nor Cotter was directly involved in the case, yet both attended the hearing for Efren’s commutation request in December 2009. Granholm denied the request late last year. Cotter must have spent many thousands in preparing his presentation against Efren, and even treated the audience to his own rendition of a 1980s rap song which supposedly reflected the boy’s state of mind at the time of the crime.

In a recent telephone conversation with Barbara Sampson, chairwoman of the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board, I asked what she thought Marschke was doing at Efren’s hearing. She told me that, given her knowledge of politics in Berrien County, partly from having read the Kotlowitz book, she would have been surprised if Marschke had not been there.

At least Cotter’s motives are less puzzling. He does not believe in rehabilitation, especially when it comes to juveniles. At the recent sentencing to life without parole of 14-year-old Dakotah Eliason, who inexplicably shot his grandfather, Cotter absurdly overdramatized the danger to the community if Dakotah were ever to be freed. He said the public would have to sleep with one eye open. I can just see Cotter cringing under his covers at the thought of marauding 14 year olds stalking the quiet hamlets of Berrien County.

Sleep tight, Art, and don’t let the bedbugs (a more real threat) bite.

Scott Elliott Benton Harbor

Please See Art Cotter's Guest Column Below

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Guest Column in Herald Palladium, St. Joseph Michigan

by Arthur Cotter


Commutation fiasco is Granholm’s final insult

The administration of Gov. Jennifer Granholm ended Saturday. In the arena of the criminal justice system, she has been an unmitigated disaster. From the irresponsible release of violent offenders back into the community, to her unwillingness to address the fundamental question of why it costs $32,000 a year in Michigan to house an inmate while in Indiana it only costs $19,000 a year on average, Granholm’s administration has hurt public safety.

Here in Berrien County, a 4-yearold girl by the name of Zaniya Anderson continues to pay the price for this governor’s ill-conceived corrections’ policies. Zaniya was struck and permanently paralyzed by a stray bullet when a recent parolee, Donnell Williams, was shooting up the streets of Benton Harbor. A review of his record at the time of his release reflected a history of drugs, guns and violent assaults, along with repeated failures on probation and parole. While Williams is responsible for the shooting of this child, it is also true that reckless policies of the governor and her political appointees at the parole board and the Department of Corrections put this violent criminal back on the street prematurely after serving only a minimum sentence from a previous conviction involving the stabbing of a victim in Kent County.

Given Granholm’s dubious criminal justice record, I was nonetheless amazed by her handling of the commutation request of a first degree murderer’s case out of Detroit, as outlined in your Christmas Day edition (“Granholm reverses her decision to release killer”). As reported, Granholm had announced that she was commuting the life without parole sentence of Matthew Makowski, which arose out of the murder of a 19-year-old victim, Pietro “Pete” Puma, in 1988. Apparently Makowski, who was a co-worker with the victim, was not present at the time of the victim’s fatal stabbing, but plotted the robbery of the victim with two other people who actually carried out the robbery and murder. In a Machiavellian twist, Makowski was at the hospital at the time of the victim’s death and comforted family members, as well as delivered the eulogy at the victim’s funeral before being arrested for his involvement in the murder. After a public outcry in the media over the commutation of this murderer’s sentence by the siblings of Mr. Puma (who were unaware of any proceedings to release Makowski), Granholm reversed her decision to commute his sentence under the weight of that public outrage.

What is dumbfounding in this case is the casual attitude with which Granholm and her parole board handled the release of a convicted first degree murderer. It apparently never occurred to a single member of the parole board or Granholm’s staff to attempt to reach out to the family of this victim to seek their input on the possibility of releasing his murderer. The family of the victim did not register under the Crime Victim’s Rights Act to receive notice of any future action on Makowski’s case because they understandably believed that his sentence of life without parole meant exactly that.

I find the most troubling aspect to Granholm’s handling of this case is that her reversal only came after the public outcry over her decision. Your paper’s initial article on this matter reflected that the victim’s parents were deceased and it was his siblings who brought their brother’s murder case to the attention of the media and the public. What if Mr. Puma had no siblings to give voice to the injustice that was about to occur in the unwarranted release of his murderer? The rendering of fair and equitable justice, like character, is not demonstrated best by what one does when everyone’s eyes are upon you, but rather by what you do when no one is looking.

If the commutation of Matthew Makowski’s sentence was truly righteous and just and it had been carefully considered, as it should have been given the gravity of the offense in question, it should not have mattered that the case subsequently received public scrutiny. Granholm owed the citizens of Michigan and a young man by the name of Pete Puma, who was murdered at much too young an age, a far more serious and thorough review of his murderer’s case before deciding to release this first degree murderer back into the community.

I am sad to say that the handling of this case epitomizes her supervision over the criminal justice system during her final term in office.

Arthur J. Cotter is prosecuting attorney for Berrien County.