Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's Time to Stop Wasting Tax Dollars on Rick Wershe, Jr.

 The injustice of the imprisonment of Richard Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick—demands action by people who care about justice. This post talks about the politics of Rick Wershe’s imprisonment, the politicians who can do something about it and ways you can contact them.

Rick Wershe needs help. More specifically, he needs political help.

It's time for Michigan politicians to get involved in Rick Wershe's case.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The story of Richard Wershe Jr.’s life sentence for being a teenaged, non-violent drug dealer (that’s what he was) is as much about the politics of crime as it is about crime. Reading this, keep the notion of politics and “We, the people” in mind. Wikipedia says politics is from the Greek word politikos. That is, of, for or relating to citizens.

Rick Wershe helped the FBI put corrupt Detroit cops in prison and put the spotlight on some who should be behind bars. One in particular had, and to some extent still has, “juice” in Detroit politics. A strong case can be made that Rick Wershe is still in prison because of a Detroit political vendetta. There are some in Detroit who are determined to keep him in prison until he dies. This post is about how you can help him—through politics.

At the time Rick Wershe was convicted—1988—Michigan had a law mandating a life sentence for anyone convicted in a case over 650 grams. Rick’s prosecution involved eight pounds of cocaine. His trial judge, Thomas Jackson, had no choice once the jury reached its guilty verdict. Rick Wershe was sentenced to mandatory life.

In 1992, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the law, which was at that time, the toughest in the nation. The justices ruled the 1978 law was "unduly disproportionate" to the crime. They concluded it violated the State Constitution. Former Michigan Governor William Milliken has been quoted as saying signing the 650 mandatory life law was “the worst mistake of my career.”

All inmates convicted under that harsh law have been released from prison; all except one: Richard Wershe, Jr.

If, as the evidence suggests, Rick Wershe is in prison for political vendetta reasons the people of Michigan should start asking some hard questions about wasting tax dollars to satisfy a vendetta by some Detroit criminal “justice” advocates.

It’s costing Michigan taxpayers about $44,000 per year to keep Rick Wershe, Jr. in prison for helping the FBI prosecute corruption in Detroit. He’s been behind bars since 1988. That means the taxpayers have paid about one million dollars—give or take a hundred-thousand bucks here or there—to punish Wershe under the totally false premise that he was—and remains—a menace to society.

Some months ago I filed a request under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act for Rick Wershe’s “disciplinary” file from the Oaks Correctional Facility where he is serving his life sentence. My request was officially denied…because no such file exists. A prison official told me Rick Wershe is as close to a “model” prisoner as there is.

There is no question violent criminals, especially repeat offenders, need to be in prison for very long sentences and in some cases, life. But Rick Wershe was never involved in violent crime. He never ordered anyone killed. He never hurt anyone. Yet, he remains in prison while over the years multiple-murder killers have been set free by the Michigan Parole Board.

An interesting thing has happened in Michigan politics in recent times. People who once loudly proclaimed their devotion to law-and-order are beginning to wonder if a broad-brush, lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key policy is such a good idea. It’s not that they’ve been hit with a compassion stick all of a sudden. It’s about money—the waste of tax money.

That kind of tough-on-crime posturing comes with a hefty price tag. No less a conservative than Newt Gingrich says it is money wasted. Gingrich has been preaching prison reform from California to Georgia, from Alabama to Michigan, Gingrich has been penning op-ed articles in local papers arguing the time has come to quit wasting tax dollars incarcerating non-violent criminals.

Writing about the Michigan prison system in the Detroit Free Press last November, Gingrich asked:

“Are taxpayers getting their money's worth from the program?
When it comes to our criminal justice system, the answer is a resounding no. We are not getting the public safety that our billions should be providing us. In state after state, we have overused imprisonment, even for low-risk offenders.”

Taking aim at Michigan specifically, Newt Gingrich went on:

“The state's correctional system churns through $2 billion each year, and now consumes $1 out of every $5 of the general fund. And because of broad parole board discretion and complicated sentencing guidelines, people incarcerated in Michigan serve longer prison terms, on average, than any other state in the nation.
This approach might be justified if it was making us safer, but that's not the case.”

The way to quit wasting tax money on Rick Wershe is to set him free. His case needs to be front and center in the political discussion on prison spending. Anyone who cares about justice and the smart use of tax dollars needs to demand that politicians take action on his case.

A letter AND email campaign is in order. Suggestion: do both. Invest in some stamps and become a political pest. Yes, I know. A phone call is easier, but it won’t get the same results. Save it for later. Read on for names and addresses.

Keep your letters and emails brief (unlike this blog). If you write more than a page you wrote too much.

Write it in your own words. That has more clout than a form letter. You don’t have to be a poet or novelist. The main thing is to wonder why Lansing is wasting tax dollars on keeping Richard Wershe, Jr. in prison. Here are a few key points; you can use them all in one letter or send multiple letters focused on one point per letter:

  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never involved in violent crime.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. never had a drug gang.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. never operated crack houses.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never indicted or charged federally or locally with conspiracy, the crime related to drug trafficking organizations.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never named as an unindicted co-conspirator in any Detroit federal drug case. His name never even came up in the Curry Brothers case, the Chambers Brothers case, the Best Friends case or any other major drug and murder trial in Detroit.
  • Richard Wershe, Jr. was never charged with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, known as the federal “drug kingpin” law. If he was a “kingpin” or “drug lord” why wasn’t he charged as such?

It’s true that Wershe—also known as White Boy Rick—was notorious in Detroit for a few months in the late 80s. But that was a result of shoddy, disgraceful reporting by the Detroit news media. The smearing of Richard Wershe, Jr. by the Detroit newspapers and television stations in 1987-88 is one of the most shameful episodes in the history of journalism in Detroit. As a former Detroit TV news reporter I don’t say that lightly. It’s a sad fact that reporters who branded him a drug lord and drug kingpin never bothered to ask for the evidence behind these law enforcement lies masquerading as fact.

The first place to start the letters-for-Wershe campaign is the office of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. With the stroke of a pen he can pardon Rick Wershe or commute his sentence.

Urge him not to take the word of the Michigan Parole Board or Michigan Attorney General’s Office. They have an institutional investment in not looking stupid for keeping Wershe in prison all this time. They don’t want to answer for wasting taxpayer dollars to satisfy a Detroit political vendetta against an FBI public corruption informant. Consider urging Gov. Snyder to launch an independent investigation of this case.

Send a letter to the Governor at this address:

Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Emails to Gov. Snyder are sent through an online form. Google or search this term:
Snyder - Contact the Governor - State of Michigan
Click the link and then click Share Your Opinion.

Don’t leave this to the Governor alone. The legislature controls the purse strings for the prisons.

Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature needs to heed the advice of fellow Conservative Newt Gingrich about the waste of tax money. Richard Wershe, Jr. is a prime example of that.

Write letters to members of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections.

Michigan Senator John Proos—a Republican—chairs the Corrections subcommittee and he represents the southwest area of the state.

Michigan Senator John Proos
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

Michigan Senator Marty Knollenberg—a Republican—represents a large swath of Oakland County, including Troy and other cities with large populations.

Michigan Senator Marty Knollenberg
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536

Michigan Senator Vincent Gregory is a Democrat, so he is less likely to care what Newt Gingrich thinks. Senator Gregory represents the southwest portion of Oakland County, including Farmington Hills, Southfield and Madison Heights. Gregory, in particular, is in an interesting position among the subcommittee members. Gregory is an ex-cop and he’s black. It is reasonable and fair to believe Gregory is an honorable man, a man of justice. It is also reasonable to suspect the “Detroit Black Caucus” may try to pressure him to support the vendetta against Rick Wershe if he gets involved in the matter.

Michigan Senator Vincent Gregory
PO BOX 30036
Lansing, MI 48909

In the Michigan House, the Criminal Justice Committee oversees Corrections matters. There are eight members of that committee but we will focus on two of them here because they’ve shown interest in Corrections reforms and both are Republicans and both represent Detroit suburbs.

Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township
N-699 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909

Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy
N-890 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909

Don't forget to include info on how to contact you.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of politicians to contact in behalf of Rick Wershe, but it’s a start. Others will be featured in future blog posts.

If you believe this is a grave injustice in our criminal justice system, it will be worthwhile if you take the time to contact each of these lawmakers and ask them to take action. If any of these politicians represent you, by all means, point that out in your message to them.

One more thing: if you know anyone in the areas represented by these elected officials, plead with them to get involved, too. Next year is an election year.

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