Virtual Reality

When I was in the county jail awaiting sentencing, everyone told me that prison time was what I wanted because the conditions were so much better. Once I got to prison I saw what they meant.  Jail Sucks!  Jumpsuits and shower shoes were the dress code. Meals were either peanut butter or bologna sandwiches, and never enough of either.  No personal property. Communal TV watching.  Non-contact visits.  Grossly overpriced commissary and phone calls.  Locked down 23 hours a day and no yard time.  No general or law library.  No programs except for a weekly Bible study.  Far too many men crammed in far too little space.

When I got to quarantine I nearly cried when they served pizza and ice cream in the chow hall.  I got several sets of uniforms and PJ’s to wear. Daily access to the shower. When I was moved to my first prison assignment I was able to order gym shoes and my own TV.  Gym and Library call-outs weekly, and yard time daily.  A job that paid a few pennies a day and a commissary list with nearly 200 items on it to spend my earnings on. Phone calls and email, contact visits with vending machine food.  Even Level IV was better than doing time in the county jail, which is run like a Level V Maximum security facility.

In 2014 the MDOC came up with the Virtual Prison Program (VPP) not to be confused with the Violence Prevention Program (also VPP).  VPP sends those with sentences of up to 4 years or less to up to 2 years in a county jail, either prior to or after completion of any required programming.  The intent was to fill up under-utilized space in out-state county jails and reduce the number of prisons operated directly by the MDOC.  The decision to send someone to VPP was made either in quarantine or at any point during incarceration.  If you refused to go the department would up your security level which pretty much guaranteed a flop the first time you go to see the Parole Board.

Up to two years in the miserable conditions of a county jail without benefit of the good time credit that inmates sentenced to jail time received of two months on the year.  Only basic medical treatment available from the jail’s nurse.  Not even routine dental such as teeth cleaning is available.  No benefit for being a MDOC prisoner except for a longer non-contact visit being permitted.  Forced to pay higher jail commissary prices for a very limited store list, like $1 Raman noodles and no microwave to cook them in. No access to a Law Library so you can mount an appeal.  No access to voluntary programming to aid you in your rehabilitation.  Back to living in jumpsuits and shower shoes.  No fresh air, no gym.

How can this be anything but cruel and unusual punishment?  To serve twice as long as anyone sentenced to county jail time under those conditions.  Forced to pay more for commissary and phone calls then their prison counterparts.  Deprived of contact visits. Forced to endure a near starvation diet and all the other hardships doesn’t seem fair and equitable to the treatment received by their prison counterparts.  How can the state justify running this type of program?  It must be cheaper than the $23,000 per year cost that it is purported to cost the MDOC to house Level 1 prisoners.  Being able to run this type of program to save money doesn’t mean they should.

As a footnote: The program was canceled in 2016 because the MDOC was not reimbursing the counties in anything close to a timely manner.  The county jails refused to continue to accept prisoners from the MDOC.

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