Wednesday, December 1, 2021

New policy allows Michigan prisoners to view virtual funerals of immediate family members

Posted By on Wed, Dec 1, 2021 at 12:47 PM

click to enlarge Before the policy, which went into effect on Monday, only low-security inmates were able to request leave to attend memorial services. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Before the policy, which went into effect on Monday, only low-security inmates were able to request leave to attend memorial services.

This week, a new policy went into effect which now allows Michigan's incarcerated individuals to submit a request to view funerals of immediate family members virtually regardless of their security risk designation.

"Any death is tragic and a cause of great sadness that only compounds when you are not able to pay your final respects with your family," Michigan Department of Corrections director Heidi Washington said in a press release. "While these individuals have broken the law, they are still human beings and helping them to maintain connections to family and to the community that most will someday return to are important steps to long-term public safety."

Prior to the policy directive, only those prisoners with a low-security designation were allowed to request to attend in-person visits and, even if approved, which is considered rare, there were strings attached. Not only would a corrections worker volunteer themselves to escort the incarcerated individual to the memorial service, but the prisoner and/or family is responsible for paying for that worker's wages, as well as benefits, lodging, and transportation. This can sometimes add up to $1,000 per day or more, Michigan Radio reports.

There are no costs associated with the virtual services, unless the funeral home charges for equipment and set-up on their end, at which point the inmate or their family would be responsible for covering those costs. While the new policy does make it easier and more accessible for inmates of all security levels to pay their respects, they must still request to attend a video service and that request must still be approved by correction facility staff. It is not clear what the grounds would be for denying a virtual memorial request.

Once approved, the prisoner will be able to "attend" the viewing in an area away from other prisoners so they may have some semblance of privacy, though a facility employee will be present to monitor the viewing.

Host of the podcast Decarceration Nation who has been previously incarcerated, Josh Hoe told Michigan Radio that dealing with the death of a close friend or family member while behind bars is "one of the hardest things."

"I think most people probably don't entirely understand how disconnected you are, " Hoe said of being incarcerated. "Most of the ways that people can stay in contact with you require them to spend money to stay in contact with you, so it becomes an additional drain on people's resources."

Currently, there are an estimated 33,000 people behind bars in Michigan.

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