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Jul 4, 2008

State settles $3.25 million lawsuit over Timothy Souders death in prison Posted by Pat Shellenbarger | The Grand Rapids Press July 01, 2008 18:29PM

Timothy Souders- 3-2005Theresa Vaughn at a Senate hearing 11-2006

A $3.25 million lawsuit settlement in no way makes up for the death of her son in a Michigan prison, Theresa Vaughn said, nor will it stop her campaign to improve prison conditions.

Timothy Souders, 21, died of dehydration and heat exhaustion after nearly four days shackled to a cement slab in a Jackson prison during an August 2006 heat wave, adding urgency to the prison reform movement and prompting Gov. Jennifer Granholm to commission a study of prison health care.

Vaughn said she will donate some of the settlement to two inmate advocacy organizations -- Prison Legal Services and the American Friends Service Committee.

"Just because they settled doesn't mean it stops here," she said. "I plan to continue this fight. Until they change the system where they can't torture people behind closed doors, I will speak out."

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman approved the settlement in Detroit late last month, ending the lawsuit against 35 defendants, including state Corrections Department Director Patricia Caruso, other state employees and Correctional Medical Services, the company under contract to provide medical care in the prisons.

Although a nondisclosure agreement bars Vaughn from talking about the financial details, court records set the total payout at $3.25 million. The state will pay more than $2.8 million of that amount, Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said.

The rest will be paid by insurance companies representing the defendants, who are not state employees. Attorneys for those insurance companies, not the state, insisted Vaughn sign the nondisclosure agreement.

Timothy Souders, serving a sentence for resisting arrest and destroying police property, was mentally ill and got in trouble for failing to follow prison rules. Surveillance tapes played in a court hearing a couple of months after his death showed him deteriorating mentally and physically during the nearly four days he was shackled in solitary confinement.

Vaughn, of Adrian, said she was surprised when the state and the other defendants agreed to settle the lawsuit. The case was extremely painful for her, she said, as attorneys for the defendants tried to shift the blame for her son's death onto her.

"It's very painful," she said. "Here you've gone through the death of a child, and they're trying to say, 'You didn't care about him, and he got what he deserved.'"

In settling the case, the state did not acknowledge responsibility for Souders' death, but an independent medical monitor in another lawsuit over prison conditions called the prison's use of four-point restraints "torture." As a result of Souders' death, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen ordered the Corrections Department to stop using four-point restraints as punishment in the Jackson prison complex.

The Corrections Department is developing a policy that would limit the use of restraints throughout the prison system, spokesman Marlan said.



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07/02/08 at 6:14PM

Way to go Feiger!!! They chained up and killed a mentally ill man. He was previously diagnosed as being bipolar. He should never have been in prison in the first place. Thank God for attorneys like Feiger. This was not a frivolous lawsuit.

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Posted: Jul 4, 2008 5:00pm
Jun 17, 2008

Real prison reform

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Taxpayers cannot afford to continue to foot the bill for the state's extra-large inmate population, especially those convicted of non-violent crimes.
People with mental illnesses are an obscenely large portion of the prison population. Money for mental health courts should be restored to the budget. Without appropriate attention to legitimate mental health needs, the state's prisons will continue to be a revolving door for these individuals.

The Department of Corrections budget has grown to more than $2 billion and is stealing resources from other priorities. Lawmakers have to get serious about prison reform, from addressing sentencing guidelines to alternative programs like mental health courts. The state has an inmate population of about 51,000 -- one in four have a history of mental illness.

The state incarcerates 47 percent more prisoners on average than surrounding Great Lakes states, primarily because of longer sentences. It spends $31,000 annually per prisoner.

Loading up prisons with people suffering from mental illness makes no sense. Mental health courts offer defendants an opportunity to participate in community-based treatment programs instead of prison. By diverting offenders for treatment, lawmakers can make strides in reducing the likelihood those with mental illness will be repeat offenders, and save taxpayers dollars. State prisons have become to a certain extent mental health-care providers, since Michigan closed its mental health hospitals in the 1990s. Savings from mental health courts could be seen in prisonhousing and medical costs.

Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, former Eaton County Sheriff and longtime supporter of the idea, said the programs could be as successful as the state's drug courts. There are about 120 mental health courts around the country but just a handful around the state, including the Eighth Circuit Court's for Ionia and Montcalm counties, the closest to Grand Rapids.

Gov. Granholm's proposed budget included $3.4 million to pilot mental health courts --$2.3 million for the Department of Community Health and $1.1 million for the judiciary but both were removed by the Senate.

The funding could have helped legislation by Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, which she introduced a year ago. It languished in committee. The legislation would allow judges to direct people with mental illness to treatment rather than jail or prison, staying the criminal case up to a year. A hearing would be held and all relevant information would be considered, including the nature and seriousness of the crime committed, their prior criminal and mental health record and likelihood of a benefit from mental health services. The defendant would have to agree to participate.

Michigan lawmakers need to rethink this misappropriation of "law & order" and end having mentally ill offenders add to the cost of the prison system. Taxpayers deserve a reprieve.

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Posted: Jun 17, 2008 6:02am
Apr 27, 2008

STOPMAX Conference

Organizing to Abolish Solitary Confinement and Torture in U.S. Prisons


May 30 – June 1, 2008, Temple University Philadelphia, PA

We appreciate the support of our Conference Sponsors!

Register online

We Need You!!
We are calling on families, formerly imprisoned people, youth groups, community activists, civic leaders, lawyers, researchers, mental health professionals and concerned citizens to attend this 3-day grassroots organizing event.

Come learn, share skills, resources and help build a national movement to end human rights violations in prisons.

Reserve a table for your organization at the conference. Tables are free for organizations and individuals who want to distribute materials. Space is limited, please register today. Download the table reservation form. (PDF)

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Please consider becoming a conference sponsor or donating to our family/former prisoner scholarship fund. Learn more>

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Scholarships for families of prisoners and former prisoners are available. Learn more about scholarships.


Contact the AFSC/National STOPMAX Campaign for more information on volunteer opportunities.

Contact Kym at (215) 241-7137 or via email:

Help us spread the word about the Stopmax Conference

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We have Vans leaving Lansing Michigan and Ann Arbor, there are free rooms available, I hope to see you there.


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Posted: Apr 27, 2008 5:16am
Jan 29, 2008

Prison health care provider called lacking
Review will guide changes, state says

LANSING -- Michigan should seriously reconsider a contract that enables a private company to provide health care inside state prisons because doctors and other employees the company uses aren't productive enough, investigators said in a report released Tuesday.

The Chicago-based National Commission on Correctional Health Care found that most doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants average seeing eight to 12 patients a day -- which the group said is low. Most should be able to see 20 patients a day with proper support, the independent review said.

It cited an "achingly slow" method of documenting patient visits electronically.

Investigators said fixing the lack of coverage from medical providers and improving their productivity are the most pressing problems for the Michigan Department of Corrections. The report also commended the state for embracing its recommendations.

The review, which cost $400,000 and lasted nine months, was ordered by Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2006 after reports that inmates died because of inadequate care. A federal judge later said inmates' health care was systematically defective and dangerous.

Although the state won't return to hiring its own doctors and other providers, Corrections Director Patricia Caruso said the prison health care system is being overhauled, starting with a switch to a risk-sharing model similar to HMOs to provide care to 50,000 prisoners.

There also will be regional contracts in the future, not one statewide contract.

Caruso declined to indicate whether she was satisfied or dissatisfied with Correctional Medical Services, whose contract to service the prisons has been running for more than 10 years.

But she added that changes were made when the existing contract was extended until April 2009. The bidding process for the HMO contracts is ongoing and will take time.

In the extended CMS contract, the state sought to address productivity issues, transporting patients to hospitals, timeliness of specialist appointments and boosting the use of telemedicine, said Barry Wickman, chief financial officer for the Department of Corrections.

In a written statement late Tuesday night, CMS said it was still reviewing the report but wanted to clarify several issues. It said its medical providers work at the discretion of the corrections agencies it serves, adding that Michigan's department has the authority to require CMS staffing changes.

CMS also said the doctors and others it hires "do an excellent job seeing patients and meeting patient needs. There are security considerations that limit the amount of time that physicians can see patients within correctional facilities."

CMS, based in St. Louis, Mo., said no member of its regional management team in Michigan was contacted for the report.

The report made 56 recommendations on how to improve the medical and mental health care of prisoners. Nearly all the recommendations are being implemented, Caruso said.

Among the suggestions:

• Require that requests for off-site specialty care be responded to within a week. Investigators found it took Correctional Medical Services two weeks to a month to respond.

• Stop using an electronic medical records system that was found to slow doctors' productivity.

• Seriously consider consolidating all mental health services under a single entity.

• Build approval of hiring and firing decisions into the state's new contract with a private provider, if it decides to continue to contract out the positions.

Investigators said they were told by state staffers that CMS administrators say they can't tell their doctors and physician assistants what to do because they are independent contractors, not employees.

"Whatever the truth is, this situation must change," the report said.

• Develop an effective system for monitoring the contract with CMS and holding CMS accountable for meeting the terms.

The report found that until a few months ago, the state had a full-time contract monitor, "but it is not clear what he actually did."

Investigators also said many patients are waiting to be seen, yet many shifts aren't being filled by CMS.

The state spends nearly $300 million a year treating inmates with physical or mental health problems.

The cost has been rising, in part because of higher health care costs but also because more prisoners are getting specialty and hospital care.

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Posted: Jan 29, 2008 6:06am
Jan 28, 2008

Criticism focuses attention on prisoner health care

Posted by By Tim Wardle | Capital News Service January 25, 2008 12:34PM

Categories: Health

LANSING- An independent review of Michigan's prisons has cited significant problems with the health care provided to prisoners.

The governor's office commissioned the report in response to several high-profile inmate deaths in recent years.

One such case was the death of Timothy Souders, a 21-year-old Adrian man convicted of stealing toys. Souders died of dehydration at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility in Jackson after being physically restrained for most of a four-day period. His guards were unaware that he was bi-polar and had attempted suicide in the past and mental health experts never examined him.

Some experts feel the report, completed by the Chicago-based National Commission on Correctional Health, may be too little too late. American Civil Liberties attorney Pat Streeter of Ann Arbor called the report a "pretty damning indictment" of the prison health care system.

"They missed a lot on the mental health component," said Streeter. "When they were compiling the report, they picked the files of prisoners already being treated."

She said that more than half of the state's inmates are mentally ill, possibly as many as a third seriously so.

Currently, Michigan contracts out health care to private St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services Inc. (CM, which provides prison health care in 24 states.

"Our goal is to provide the highest quality health care at the lowest cost," said Russ Marlan, public information director for the Department of Corrections.

Under the current system, CMS charges the state what it spends on inmates.

Marlan said the department wants to move toward a "shared risk" system, in which the health care provider would receive a set amount of money at the beginning of the contract period and CMS would pay any additional cost.

Marlan cited one example from last year, where a single prisoner's medical bills totaled nearly $800,000.

"Improving the quality of health care will decrease costs," says Marlan. "We also need to have a better use of time and a better use of resources."

Every inmate receives a yearly physical examination- something Marlan said is more than community standards since most people on the outside don't get an exam every year.

"An interesting way to look at it is that prisoners are the only group of people who are constitutionally guaranteed health care," said Marlan.

The department plans to cut costs by giving healthy inmates an exam only every five years and to priorities based on patients needs.

One of the report's major criticisms was about the way prison health care providers keep records. Doctors and nurses currently keep medical records using computer software that the report charged is not effective.

In addition, they often fill out mountains of paperwork for a single patient and send it to a myriad of individuals, who often don't read it, the report said.

"For the most part, what we found was 'aper pushing' dictated by Central Office rather than 'roblem solving' specific to the needs of particular facilities," it said.

The report found that the average health care professional saw only about nine or 10 patients a day, but should be able to see as many as 20.

The main thrust of the commission's recommendations is making health care in prisons more effective and more efficient, according to the report.

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Posted: Jan 28, 2008 11:37am
Jan 12, 2008
Prisoners have right to health care

Published: Friday, December 14, 2007

The state will have to delay for at least six months its plan to reform prison health care with regional managed-care contracts — in effect, HMOs for inmates.

The Department of Corrections received only three bids for eight contracts that the state had hoped to award next month. Seeking more qualified bidders, Corrections will now rework its proposal with the help of health care providers.

The delay, while unwelcome, is another opportunity to get it right, including a better plan for independent oversight of prison health care and the potential removal of the current primary provider of prisoner health care, Correctional Medical Services Inc. of Missouri.

The new bidding process will also include recommendations from the independent review of prison health care ordered last year by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. That study should wrap up late this month.

Whatever new system is in place, strong, independent oversight is essential, since Granholm and the Legislature have failed to restore the Office of Corrections Ombudsman.

Effective oversight could come from an independent medical monitor appointed by the governor. In any case, the Legislature and governor must step up and oversee the prison health care system if they really want change.

Meeting in Lansing with representatives of about 30 health care providers, Corrections officials acknowledged they had moved too fast and should have met with medical providers before seeking the first round of bids. Still, on this matter, the department rates some slack.

It is moving into new territory, expecting to become the first state to use health maintenance organizations for inmate care.

Michigan spends roughly $300 million a year to deliver physical and mental health care to 50,000 inmates in 42 prisons. The proposed managed-care system, similar to the one used by the state’s Medicaid program, is no panacea. Still, it lays the groundwork for a more accountable, cost-effective, efficient and humane system.

A Free Press editorial page investigation, ‘‘Neglect in Custody,’’ showed systemic failures in how Michigan delivers prison health care, including misdiagnoses, delayed or denied treatment, poor record keeping, withheld medications and inadequate accommodations for the mentally ill and disabled.

In one case, Timothy Joe Souders, a 21-year-old mentally ill inmate sentenced to 1 to 4 years for shoplifting and resisting arrest, died of heat and thirst.

Unfortunately, because of the necessary rebidding, the state will now likely have to extend its contract with CMS by at least six months. CMS has compiled a dismal record here and around the country, taking up to $90 million a year from Michigan taxpayers while operating in near secrecy.

CMS has been part of the problem too long. The health care contract assumed by CMS in 1998 has not been put out for bid since 1997. Based on past performance, CMS should not be awarded a new contract.

Michigan’s prison health care system needs a fresh start with strong oversight. Corrections should take the opportunity provided by an unexpected delay to make sure that happens.

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Posted: Jan 12, 2008 7:09am
Jan 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reforms sought in restraint of mentally ill at state hospitals

Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

Eight incidents of inappropriate force and restraint have been documented at four state psychiatric hospitals since July, prompting an advocacy group Monday to call for reforms.

In Michigan, hospitals can restrain patients only with physicians' orders. They must be checked every 15 minutes to ensure they aren't hurting themselves and to prevent instances such as the 2006 death of Timothy Souders while restrained in a Michigan prison.

The state's Office of Recipients Rights, which investigates complaints, has recommended hospitals stop the practice, but the suggestion has been ignored, according to the advocacy group that is federally mandated to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

"This abuse can no longer continue," said Elmer Cerano, executive director of the Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service. "People's lives are at risk."

State health officials say they are aware of the issue and are working to correct the problem.

"These things are not being ignored," said James McCurtis Jr., spokesman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. "We are looking at all of these allegations. We want to be sure we handle it the right way with the due diligence that it deserves."

The most egregious example of what Cerano called "bad mental health" occurred in September when a woman was dragged down the hall to her room and put in restraints for 1 1/2 hours at Walter Reuther Psychiatric Hospital in Westland without a doctor's order or follow-up to check on her safety.

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Posted: Jan 11, 2008 8:31am
Nov 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
By Pat Shellenbarger

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- David Moore has come home to die.

It has been a long journey that took him to inner-city Chicago, where he counseled gang members and drug addicts, and through countless displaced-persons camps in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where he fed, housed and comforted the sick and impoverished.

Nearly two decades ago, he became a minister to a small-town Michigan church.

Then, his life took a decidedly less-glorious turn.

He spent the past 14 years in prison, convicted of having sexual relations with two teenage boys. He makes no excuses.

"Don't forget why you're here," he often told himself. "You did this."

Medically paroled due to terminal cancer, he hopes to spend his remaining days raising awareness of the conditions inside the walls. He also wants to expose a prison medical system he believes sentenced him and others to death.

Prisoner rights advocates are glad Moore is speaking out.

"All that happened to him happens to other prisoners," said Penny Ryder, head of the Criminal Justice Program for the American Friends Service Committee in Ann Arbor. Last year, she received 2,950 letters from Michigan inmates protesting conditions. About a third complained of inadequate health care.

This is no surprise to Moore. At 67, he knows he did much good in his life, but "I think I dwell on the negativity of my past, the horror that I wreaked," he said. "I wonder if it would have been better if I had died at 35."

By that age, he had been in Vietnam working for an international Christian relief agency. As Saigon fell to communist forces in April 1975, he spirited out of the country the family of a South Vietnamese official who coordinated relief efforts there -- the father, mother and four children -- by falsely claiming the oldest daughter was his wife. That lie saved them from certain persecution, likely imprisonment and possible death, "the most significant thing I did in my life," he said.

After graduating from Union High School, Moore traveled the world -- 92 countries, by his count -- working in refugee camps in places such as Sudan and Bangladesh, as well as a resettlement camp in Arkansas for Vietnamese refugees.

In 1988, when he was 48, Moore was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ and hired by a church in Bronson.

I loved the people, and I was so well accepted," he said, then added, "until I sabotaged everything."

Drinking freed his latent sexual urges, Moore believes, or perhaps was his way of trying to forget them.

He became sexually involved with two teenage boys. In 1993, he pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was sentenced to 10 1/2 to 22 1/2 years in prison.

As he entered a Jackson prison, "I was scared. I was depressed," he said. "I thought my life was over. In fact, I wanted it to be over."

But he had survived so much before -- the fall of Vietnam, a stabbing in Tanzania -- "I will survive this too," he said. "I was more concerned about my spiritual and psychological well-being than my physical."

He became editor of the prison newspaper at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian until the administration took that away. He created a program teaching other inmates to read, but the prison officials dropped that class and threw away the textbooks.

He conducted classes in transactional analysis, a therapy emphasizing personal growth and change, but corrections officials stopped that, too. 

Most of his efforts to better himself and other prisoners were frustrated, as the Corrections Department placed more emphasis on punishment than rehabilitation, he said. Even arts and crafts programs were eliminated.

"I saw hard-core lifers -- murderers -- crying, because they took their leather tools away," Moore said. "They took their livelihood. They took their dignity. They often say you come out of prison worse than when you went in, and nobody asks why. It's a callous, evil system that perpetuates itself."

By denying inmates the chance to improve themselves, the prisons guarantee most will return, Moore said. They begin thinking of themselves as victims.

He fought that urge.

"It's so much easier to focus on me as a victim than on the victims I created by my crime," he said. "You can't rehabilitate if you're a victim."

Permitted no contact with his victims, Moore wrote them a letter, but never mailed it. He wanted to tell them: "You didn't do anything. Your mistake was in believing in me. I'm solely responsible for this. I deserved the punishment."

Other inmates had been raised in poverty, without hope. "I had no excuse," Moore said. "I had loving parents. I never was hungry. I had every opportunity. My being in prison was more disgusting in my mind."

If the prison administration would not offer the inmates hope, Moore decided he would. In 2000, with the help of friends on the outside, he founded a nonprofit organization called Restore Hope to prepare inmates for parole and support them after their release.

He offered to create restorative justice programs, an approach that emphasizes repairing the harm done by the criminal and making him a contributing member of society.
The corrections department turned him down. 

In 2001, Restore Hope opened a halfway house for parolees in Zeeland, but closed it five months later in a disagreement with the building's owner. Restore Hope ordered self-help books for inmates in a substance abuse treatment program, but the prison administrators refused to deliver them.

"Everything he was attempting was doing some good," said Bob Sobeski, a Restore Hope board member who chaired the committee that hired Moore at the Bronson church. "It was a matter that he wanted to do something to help the paroled people get back into society."

Battle for his life

In February 2002, Moore complained he was bleeding rectally and asked for medical care. Six months later, a doctor at Ionia County Memorial Hospital performed a colonoscopy, removed several polyps he called precancerous, and said Moore should have another colonoscopy in six months.

He did not get it, despite his repeated complaints he was continuing to bleed. Time and again, he made medical appointments but, without explanation, they were canceled.

Fourteen months after the first colonoscopy, Moore had another at the Duane Waters Hospital inside the Jackson prison complex. He was given no advance notice for the procedure, which was performed without anesthetic.

Afterward he overheard a doctor saying the exam showed malignant colon cancer.

"I just sat there and stared," Moore recalled. "My God, I've got cancer, and it's malignant."

He underwent surgery, but the next few years brought more frustration: medical appointments canceled without explanation, prescriptions unfilled for weeks. When a doctor at Jackson's Foote Health System hospital prescribed a drug to counteract the side affects of chemotherapy, Correctional Medical Services (CM, the company under contract with the state to provide care in the prisons, declined to fill it, Moore said, forcing the doctor to cancel the next chemotherapy treatment.

Some prison doctors and staff members clearly cared, he said. Others could not have cared less. A guard escorting him for an appointment at Duane Waters Hospital asked, "Why don't you die?" Moore recalled. "You're just costing us money, and we don't need your kind out there."

"The medical service is a joke, a sick, sad joke," Moore said. "I've been in refugee camps in Africa and Asia. I've never seen disgusting, degrading conditions like at Duane Waters."

CMS spokesman Ken Fields, citing patient confidentiality restrictions, declined to talk specifically about Moore's case but said some of the timeline and events Moore described "are not consistent with the medical records for this patient.

Further, the patient received ongoing medical care throughout his incarceration." 

The Corrections Department, battered by complaints of poor medical care, plans to drop CMS next spring and contract with several HMOs to provide care in the prisons.

Under a pilot program called the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, the department also hopes to reduce the nearly 50 percent of paroled inmates who return to prison, spokesman Russ Marlan said.

The program, now being tested in Kent County and other areas of the state, attempts to reduce the recidivism rate by preparing inmates for life outside prison.

Moore and other prisoner advocates doubt it will have enough resources to succeed.

By early 2004, tests showed Moore's cancer had spread, and he underwent surgery to remove part of his liver, but it was too late. His doctors told him he would die maybe in months, maybe a year.

Four years past his minimum sentence, Moore had twice been denied parole. In the summer of 2006, facing death and frustrated in his efforts to get Restore Hope off the ground, he gave up. He wrote his friends and told them to disband Restore Hope.

"There is no hope," he wrote.

"I was convinced I'd never get out. I wanted to die. I wanted to get out and die the next day. I didn't want to die in prison."

His friends would not hear of it.

"If you're a good friend, you don't leave a person when he has a problem," said Jack Bartlett, a Restore Hope board member.

When Moore heard that Bartlett's 32-year-old daughter had died of cancer, "I wept," he said. "Why can't I die and she live?"  

Out in the open

Early this year, the parole board, under pressure to release some old and sick inmates, relented, granting Moore a medical parole with the understanding he likely would die within six months.

He was released March 16.

For several months he lived with his sister, and this fall moved into his own house in Grand Rapids. He began attending Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and, after informing Rev. Doug Van Doren of his past, became a member.

"David was very forthright," Van Doren said. "He said, 'I don't want to cause any problems. I want a place to worship.' He wants and needs to be in community, especially a religious community. He's a religious man."

Once a week, Moore goes for chemotherapy at the Lacks Cancer Center at Saint Mary's Health Care. A recent CAT scan showed the liver tumors are still there, but held in check by the drugs pumped into his veins every week.

"It's a back-and-forth game," Dr. Stephen Huang told him. "The cancer is progressing and moving forward. I'd say it's stable."

"So I should go Christmas shopping?" Moore asked.

Eventually the drugs will stop working, and then Moore figures he will have maybe a few months to live. Restore Hope is dormant, and he and his friends expect when he dies, it will, too.

Moore knows there are risks in speaking out now. Some will shun him, say he deserves to die behind bars.

"I can say, 'I'm a parolee and a sex offender, but, fortunately, I'm going to die soon, so you don't have to worry about it,'" he said.

If people don't care how inmates are treated, he wants them to know, "Your dollars are being squandered on a system that is doing more harm than good. People are dying not just physically, but spiritually and psychologically."

He has written his memorial service, and once thought of having only his inmate number -- 230342 -- engraved on his headstone, since the corrections system tried to strip him of his identity and his dignity.

"When I get to my last days or weeks, I don't want to be lying on my back looking at the ceiling saying, 'What should I have done?'" he said. "I feel an obligation to the people who are left behind.

"The cancer, in one way, has been liberating for me. I know my days are numbered, and I know there are things I want to do and accomplish, and I'm doing it.

"If God has a purpose for me in these days, this is it."

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Posted: Nov 19, 2007 10:42am
Nov 16, 2007

The Michigan Daily

Gary Graca: Prison breakdown

If there's one thing Michigan lawmakers seem to love more than bickering over the state budget, it's incarceration. With only a few notable exceptions, most legislators want to lock up as many people as possible in as few prisons as possible, ignore them and the conditions they live in while they are there, expect them to make a seamless return to society through the all-powerful Michigan Prison Re-entry Initiative and pretend like the whole process doesn't come at a cost.

They couldn't be more delusional.

To the tune of almost $2 billion a year, Michigan is financing one of the most dysfunctional corrections systems in the country, and certainly the most backward in the Midwest. The sadder thing is that fixing the problem is a lot easier than people might think. Positive reforms just can't get support. Although these might not be the most popular or politically palatable solutions, if the state eased up its sentencing guidelines for a few low-risk offenses and opened up the option of parole for inmates who have earned a second chance, much of the strain and cost of the system would go away.

According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, Michigan incarcerates people at the eighth-highest rate in the country, locking up 502 people out of every 100,000. Each of these inmates costs roughly $35,000 a year to keep behind bars - a figure that is more than three times the U.S. poverty line for a single, non-elderly person.

Meanwhile, Michigan's unemployment rate is still hovering around 7 percent, and lawmakers are slashing safety-net services like Medicaid because they can't bite the bullet and raise taxes.

Somehow, the Michigan Department of Corrections still managed to get a budget increase of $125 million for the next fiscal year.

While it might seem wildly unfair that the state keeps pumping money into Michigan's system of mass incarceration even as it ignores unemployed workers, it might just be worth it after all if it is making our state a safer place. But it's not.

According to 2005 statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, when compared to neighboring states like Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, Michigan has the highest violent crime, murder, forcible rape and aggravated assault rates per 100,000 people - despite also having the highest incarceration rate. Last October, two Michigan cities, Detroit and Flint, were also bestowed the honor of being the second and third most dangerous cities in the country, as judged by the private research company Morgan Quitno Press.

In May 2007, Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed one solution that makes sense: Reform sentencing guidelines so less people end up in prison and those in prison serve shorter sentences. The plan would reform 142 felonies and includes lowering maximum sentences for cocaine and marijuana possession and higher thresholds for forgery, larceny and counterfeiting crimes.

The changes would save an estimated $76 million per year.

Now that he has inexplicably stopped writing about the health care problems in Michigan's prisons, Detroit Free Press columnist Jeff Gerritt wrote another proposal this weekend that just makes sense. Gerritt proposed that Michigan allow well-behaved, reformed inmates with life sentences the opportunity to parole after serving roughly 15 to 18 years. This was an option till 1992 - when then-governor John Engler helped institute a "life-means-life" philosophy - and recidivism rates for these parolees were much lower than other offenders.

But both of these common-sense proposals will have to fend off the ubiquitous public safety arguments. People don't want ex-convicts in their neighborhoods or at their workplaces. And victims understandably want severe punishment for the perpetrators, regardless of whether the crime is theft or murder.

State Republicans tap into and take advantage of these sentiments every time this debate comes up. Like all good things Republican, the answer lies in letting the market make it all better. By privatizing our state prisons or outsourcing our prisoners to other states, Michigan can still mass incarcerate - it just needs to do it more efficiently.

It's pretty far-fetched to say that outsourcing inmates away from their family and community is an effective way to reform them, but if by some stretch of the imagination it is, why not satisfy everyone and implement a viable system of parole, too?

The reality is that we don't have a punishments system; we have a corrections system - and that means not locking up people when they aren't dangerous and not keeping inmates in prison indefinitely. Michigan can find better ways to spend its money.

Gary Graca is an associate editorial page editor. He can be reached at

Comments posted on the Article web site:

If there's one thing Michigan lawmakers seem to love more than bickering over the state budget, it's incarceration. With only a few notable exceptions, most legislators want to lock up as many people as possible in as few prisons as possible, ignore them and the conditions they live in while they are there, expect them to make a seamless return to society through the all-powerful Michigan Prison Re-entry Initiative and pretend like the whole process doesn't come at a cost....

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posted 11/14/07 @ 3:38 PM EST

Gov. Granholm's motives for "less people end[ing] up in prison and those in prison serv[ing] shorter sentences" may be fiduciary. But I strongly suspect Mr. Graca's a social activist in accountant's clothing. This "green eyeshades" shtick would be more convincing if a net savings could be had from emptying Michigan's prisons. The temptation is to focus narrowly on the Dept. of Corrections budget, & ignore the down-stream costs of putting more convicts on the streets. But further offenses will be committed by the criminals Mr. Graca's plan places among us, & those crimes have real social, economic & financial costs he fails to realize (or declines to mention).

Mr. Graca notes that Michigan's violent crime rate is higher than our geographic neighbors, this despite the state's higher rate of incarceration. But the inference he invites the reader to make is a non sequitur, and a distraction from Mr. Graca's REAL argumentative obligation: to show that freeing more convicts won't make a bad violent crime situation even worse – a burden he shirks entirely.

Theresa M. Vaughn

posted 11/16/07 @ 12:37 AM EST

Originally posted by


Gov. Granholm's motives for "less people end[ing] up in prison and those in prison serv[ing] shorter sentences" may be fiduciary. But I strongly suspect Mr. Graca's a social activist in accountant's clothing. This "green eyeshades" shtick would be more convincing if a net savings could be had from emptying Michigan's prisons. The temptation is to focus narrowly on the Dept. of Corrections budget, & ignore the down-stream costs of putting more convicts on the streets. But further offenses will be committed by the criminals Mr. Graca's plan places among us, & those crimes have real social, economic & financial costs he fails to realize (or declines to mention).

Mr. Graca notes that Michigan's violent crime rate is higher than our geographic neighbors, this despite the state's higher rate of incarceration. But the inference he invites the reader to make is a non sequitur, and a distraction from Mr. Graca's REAL argumentative obligation: to show that freeing more convicts won't make a bad violent crime situation even worse – a burden he shirks entirely.

Wolfe is either A corrections officer, or working within the Michigan Department of Corrections at some level.

State Correction's Department is one of the few employers left in Michigan, that still provides a decent wage and Benefits, at taxpayers expense. It is only logical to assume that the state employee's do not want to lost there income's, benefits, and pension's, as so many of us that have spent our life's working in Michigan's declining Automobile Factory's.

As to Wolfe's quoting Garcia wrong..... Michigan's crime rate is LESS than the other great Lakes State's not more, even though Michigan incarcerates more people. Michigan is the 8th highest State in the nation for putting people in prison and keeping them in pass reasonable parole dates.

Mrs. Granholm's proposed changing the Sentencing Guidelines would save the State Millions... and some of that savings would mean laying off some of the Corrections officer's that are no longer needed. The corrections officer's have a huge voting union that lobby and stop these much needed reforms.

Taxpayers wake up and do the math... we need these reforms to move Michigan not only out of this Budget crisis but out of the Dark -ages.

As for Wolfe saying " But I strongly suspect Mr. Graca's a social activist in accountant's clothing. " Make no mistake I am a Social Activist, I do not ware accountant's clothing, I am a Michigan Mother.... whom lost a child tragically to a system that needs nation wide reform. And unlike " Wolfe " as a home making doing everyday simple accounting, I can see Millions wasted in a system that is not working, it's time to quit living with a non functioning system.

As for privatizing the prisons and making Person's in prison work for the state as free labor / penny's a Day .... has the upper class forgotten that we fought one civil WAR over Slavery.

Our government is so worried about other nations, Elected officials need the refocus and look at how our country is losing respect, resources, jobs, children.

There are 17 Million people in this country connected to a person in Prison, Jail, Parole, Probation, including the Hilton's and the Bush's,,, that is a large number of people, that will not continue to see our Loved ones tortured, mistreated, and used.

As for the re-offender rate in Michigan... Watch the tapes of how Corrections officers treat people in prison on the ACLU's web site, watch how someone at 21 years old can die in 5 days of thirst and how unethical, uncompassionate, Policy breaking, our top payed State employee's work.

If .... as citizen's we treated our pets the way Corrections officers get paid to treat person's in prison and keep there tax paid jobs, we would be charged with the crime of animal cruelty.

If you mistreat an animal, it will be fearful, and turn on you and bite back.

People are Human beings, prison terms start out at 1 year or longer. When people, especially young adults, are treated day in and day out with disrespect and tortured, how can anyone, reasonably expect any kind of quality rehabilitation ?

I for one, am not afraid of that person in Prison for shop-lifting or smoking a Joint.

BUT ... Correction's staff that can watch someone as weak as Timothy was, falling and needed help, standing by laughing 2 hours before he died, you can tell from watching the tapes that these big men are nothing but BULLY's, and those kind of people I am very fearful of.

The hidden crimes, the crimes behind walls... behind doors of our homes... in the form of doing a job, OR Domestic Violence, are the hardest and most painful.

As when it's domestic violence, or corrections officer's, you are expecting that person or Corrections officer, to have your best interest, not abuse you because no-one can see.

I feel strong enough about my opinions to use my real name :

Theresa M. Vaughn ,
a Social activist and Grieving Mother still.

Rest in Peace my Son, August 6, 2006 the day I woke up to Prison reform. Let no other's suffer as Timothy Souders did.

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Nov 16, 2007 11:19am
Nov 14, 2007


Don't throw away the key
Prisons can safely save state millions by revising sentencing, parole rules

Facing its worst budget problems in modern times, the State of Michigan still incarcerates 50,000 people at a cost of nearly $35,000 per inmate per year. That adds up to nearly $2 billion -- more than 20% of the general fund budget -- for the Department of Corrections. While most of the people behind bars in Michigan are right where they belong, the state can and should take more steps to safely reduce the inmate population.

Michigan's incarceration rate -- 502 inmates per 100,000 people -- is out of whack. It is by far the highest in the Great Lakes region -- Illinois, for example, is 354, Ohio 414 -- and eighth-highest among the 50 states, according to the latest report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The state's staggering prison costs might be worth it if Michigan also was among the lowest-crime states, but it's not.

Nor are Michigan prisons much more than warehouses, lacking education and rehabilitation programs that might make a difference in the return rate for offenders, now at nearly 50%.

The state Department of Corrections has begun some efforts to cut costs. It has slightly increased parole rates in conjunction with its prisoner re-entry program; released some old, infirm or deathly ill inmates; and closed two prisons. But there is much more to be done, including revising the guidelines under which Michigan judges sentence people to prison and complying with a recent court ruling that could affect about 1,000 "lifers" who committed crimes before 1992.

Free Press editorial board member Jeff Gerritt explains more in his column.

Visibility: Everyone
Posted: Nov 14, 2007 6:23am


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Theresa Vaughn- Miller
, 2, 3 children
Adrian, MI, USA
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