Michigan legislators deserve credit for restoring their Corrections Ombudsman’s Office, editorializes the Detroit Free Press. The House has set aside $1.25 million, and the Senate $500,000. Given what’s at stake and the size of the prison system, the two sides should reach agreement on an amount that enables the office to hire enough field investigators to handle thousands of complaints a year and send a final plan to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, says the newspaper. Legislators closed the ombudsman’s office in 2003 save $500,000 a year.
Now, legislators apparently understand that, in the long run, a corrections department with little outside scrutiny will cost much more. Michigan also needs the office to field questions from inmates’ families, who have problems getting even routine information about prison procedures and policies. A Free Press investigation into prison health care problems found that a 21-year-old mentally ill inmate died of heat and thirst in 2006, after spending most of his last four days strapped down in a hot cell, naked and soaked in his own urine. The money likely to be paid in that case alone on behalf of the victim’s family would fund a Corrections Ombudsman Office for years. Independent oversight is essential in a system that holds 50,000 in 42 prisons and costs taxpayers $2 billion a year, says the paper.