Well, what a surprise I woke up to this morning.

Did you know that your Michigan tax dollars have been paid to a private law firm in Grand Rapids that helps Michigan prisoners overturn their convictions and sue the state over the conditions of their confinement?

Well, I did not.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, we use tax dollars to help Michigan prisoners sue the state over the conditions of their confinement.

Do you believe that is a wise use of our Michigan tax dollars?

The Detroit Free Press is reporting that “A state administrative panel is expected to approve an extension to a $4.1-million contract with a Grand Rapids law firm that helps Michigan prisoners overturn their convictions and sue the state.”

Apparently, the contract with the law firm Peterson Paletta is drawing criticism from both ends of the political spectrum.

According to the Detroit Free Press, opponents of this say the state wants to cut the prison budget, so it's ridiculous for the Corrections Department to use taxpayer money to pay private attorneys to help prisoners sue the state. Advocates for prisoners' rights say the "legal writer" program — under which the law firm trains and oversees inmates who help less literate prisoners draft legal pleadings and complaints — is useful, but too few inmates receive too little help from it.

What does this cost the state of Michigan taxpayers each year?

Paul Egan reports that “prison officials say the program, which costs about $752,000 a year, was created pursuant to a 1996 federal court order arising from a 1992 prisoner lawsuit.”

Apparently, not all of Michigans prisoners can access these taxpayer dollars.

According to the Detroit Free Press, “Only a minority of the state's 43,000 prisoners are eligible for the program. The others are expected to do their own legal work by making use of the prison law libraries, which the department is in the process of converting from libraries with books to libraries that will be electronic only.

About 29,000 prisoners who have a high school diploma or GED are generally not eligible, leaving fewer than 15,000 who are eligible on that basis. Inmates can also qualify for the program if they can't speak or write English or have a mental or physical disability that prevents them from using the law library, or are in segregation.”

If there are real issues with the conditions of the prisons, I would think a private attorney would have no problem taking on the prisoner’s case on a contingency basis.

So, the question to all of you is, "Should we be using Michigan tax dollars to help prisoners overturn their convictions and sue over the conditions of their confinement?"

There are budget cuts to Michigan’s Department of Corrections in the current budget proposal, these funds could be used to help offset some of those cuts.

Do we owe it to the prisoners to fund their legal counsel in these cases?

What are your thoughts?

Let’s discuss this today on my show the Live with Renk show, which airs Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to noon, to let me know your thoughts at (269) 441-9595.

Or please feel free to start a discussion and write your thoughts in the comment section.