Documentary Airing on WKAR Tues. Night Explores Pathways to Michigan Prisons

May 8, 2017

"Pathways to Prison" airs Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. on WKAR-TV. It takes an in-depth look at several reasons that lead to 41,000 people incarcerated in Michigan, the most in the midwest. 


Yusef Bunchy Shakur once terrorized his tough Detroit neighborhood. By 19-years-old, he was a gang member and serving time for a murder he did not commit.

"The permanent fix is helping human beings and we have to go beyond just locking people up," said Shakur.

Shakur, now a community crime fighter, is part of the documentary "Pathways to Prison." It was produced and originally aired on Detroit Public Television. Through a partnership with WKAR-TV, it will air Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. in the greater Lansing area on Channel 27.1.

WKAR-TV and Detroit Public Television screened the documentary on May third in the WKAR studios.

The documentary reported the number of prisoners in Michigan increased from 8,000 in 1973 to 41,000 currently. It costs two billion dollars annually to house them in prison.

Poverty is one pathway.  Another can be a first-time arrest, even for a minor crime, according to Michigan Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids).

"In Michigan, 40 percent of people who are in jails are there because they can't aford bond," said Rep. LaGrand. "Their families get broken up, they lose their jobs very quickly, they lose their housing."

Rep. LaGrand said people with low-incomes often plead guilty to simply leave jail, not because they committed a crime.

"The problem is, they wind up wiht a permanent conviction on their record which follows them through the rest of their life and makes it much more likely that they'll get in much serious trouble," said Rep. LaGrand.

"Pathways to Prison" explores the racial differences in discipline in Michigan schools. At one point in the documentary, an University of Michigan psychology researcher notes that African-American children are 3-5 times more likely to be suspended and expelled from schools than their white counterparts for the same behaviors.

Barbara Levine of the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Safety said getting to the root of why a child is acting up in school instead of punishment will pay off in the long term.

"These kids need to know that they're valued, that they have options," said Levine.  "They need to feel like they have some option other than being pre-ordained to go to prison."

Shakur said Michigan should invest more in people and less in prisons.

"To give up on people is to give up on ourselves," said Shakur.