Kinross incident highlights need for corrections reforms

Sen. Wayne Schmidt

Sen. Wayne Schmidt

Last month, inmates at the Kinross Correctional Facility formed a protest that led to the destruction of property and a heightened level of security at the prison. What has been portrayed as a peaceful event to memorialize another prison riot that occurred at the Attica State Prison in New York in 1971, was anything but that.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Kinross and tour the facility with the warden and members of the corrections officers union. From small fires that were started, to broken sinks and windows, to destroyed housing units, what happened at Kinross was significant, and enough for officers to go on heightened alert. A level one and two facility, Kinross does not have a traditional prison cell structure that the general public may associate with, and thus there was not a way to go on “lockdown.” To secure the site, corrections officers formed a perimeter around the facility. The chaos that ensued led to more than a dozen officers inside the prison being cut off from their colleagues on the outside. Emergency response teams were brought on site to help restore order.

Make no mistake — we are lucky that there were no injuries or worse. Thanks to a highly trained and well prepared team of corrections officers and staff, the incident was relatively contained and the main perpetrators removed.

Some of the conditions that are said to have led to the disturbance add to the call for reforming our criminal justice system. I think it would be wise, when considering reforms, to revisit the food service situation in our state prisons. I am led to believe this was a major instigating factor in the Kinross event. Not only should inmates be provided a decent meal, the workers preparing and serving food should be properly trained for such an environment.

This is a reform that should be considered to improve Michigan’s criminal justice system in addition to bipartisan bills already passed by the Senate in June. Reforms included in the approved package are ways to better track and evaluate recidivism data, expedite medical commutation hearings, encourage partnerships with outside volunteers beneficial to prisoners, expand the use of a consent calendar for juveniles, and provide a tax credit for employing a probationer or parolee.

Criminal justice reforms should center on the principles of efficiency, effectiveness, and rehabilitation in order to break the cycle of crime that pervades society and to better support our corrections professionals on the inside.

What happened at Kinross was unfortunate, and thanks to the dedicated, well-trained corrections officers, Warden Duncan MacLaren and the entire staff, it was contained. With smart reforms, we can help mitigate future incidences.

 Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents the 37th state Senate District, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.