Skip to content

Does Doug DeVos and the West Michigan Policy Forum really want to change the prison system in Michigan?

March 14, 2018

We have been monitoring the West Michigan Policy Reform (WMPF) group, ever since it came into being in 2008.

This group is made up of the West Michigan power structure, like the DeVos family, Peter Seechia, John Kennedy, Michael Jandernoa and other CEOs and politicians that have been supporting and lobbying on state policies since they were founded in 2008. 

The West Michigan Policy Reform has already been instrumental in pushing through state policy that benefits businesses on taxes, they were a force in making Michigan a Right to Work state, pushing for education policies that expand Charter Schools and last year got legislation passed to eliminate traditional public sector employees and public teacher pensions.

Now the group is taking on what they refer to as Criminal Justice Reform.

Over the past several weeks, the West Michigan Policy Forum has been posting pieces on their Facebook page, pushing what they name as criminal justice reform, with posts about recidivism in Michigan’s prison population, juvenile justice and a letter from Doug DeVos on behalf of the of the WMPF.  

DeVos wrote his letter that was published in the Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Business Journal on March 9.  DeVos begins his “letter” by stating:

More than a decade ago, law enforcement leaders supported smart criminal justice reform because they recognized that over-incarceration would not make Michigan safer. Despite these improvements, Michigan still incarcerates more people, keeps inmates longer and spends significantly more money on corrections than our neighboring Midwest states. One out of every five taxpayer dollars goes toward corrections — a proportion of Michigan’s general fund budget nearly twice that of the next highest spending state.

So, does this mean that Doug DeVos and the West Michigan Policy Forum are now interesting in dismantling mass incarceration? Hardly.

What DeVos goes on to say in his letter, is to promote specific legislation by Republican  Representatives Klint Kesto and Hank Vaupel. DeVos never identifies this legislation, which is House Bill 5234. This legislation does provide county sheriff’s with the ability to provide medical treatment to inmates who are elderly or struggling with mental health issues.

This sounds like a humane thing to do, but why would the West Michigan Policy Forum being championing it? Again, Doug DeVos states:

While there has been discussion of business support of reform to fill jobs, the need for reform is much bigger than any economic impact. To ensure safety, we must keep those who need to be restrained in prison. However, more than 80 percent of Michigan inmates, or more than 32,000 of the current prison population, will be released and re-enter our local communities. For those who have broken the law and have faced appropriate accountability, we have a moral responsibility to create real opportunity for them. We should help them find confidence, meaningful work to support themselves and their families, rebuild lives and contribute to the well-being of our community.

Again, this sounds like a very humane approach, but something seems missing. I believe that this is really about the West Michigan Policy Forum wanting to have access to laborers, as DeVos admits in the above statement. In addition, the message of criminal justice reform also plays well with liberal and progressives.

However, this seemingly liberal legislative push by the West Michigan Policy Forum is a reform that will benefit business interests, plus it is simply a reform. In other words, there is no indication that the WMPF is now going to take on the issue of mass incarceration by dismantling it.

The West Michigan Policy Forum is NOT going to be advocating for the end of police surveillance of the black and latinx communities, they are NOT going to be calling for an end to bail money, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of the privatization of prisons and prison services, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs, they are NOT going to be calling for an end to ICE raids, they are NOT calling for changes in the condition of jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities or immigration detention and they are NOT going to be calling for the end of capital punishment.

These ARE the kind of actions that groups like the Movement for Black Lives are calling for across the country, along with other black organizations and immigrant-led movements. This is the kind of platform we need to support and to embrace, NOT the weak, reformist legislation that the West Michigan Policy Forum is pushing. 

%d bloggers like this: