Ask Gov. Whitmer today to use her executive powers to commute the sentence of Theresa Dunlap. Theresa is a 66-year-old woman who has served 46 years in prison. She was recently diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Even before this diagnosis, Ms. Theresa was more than ready to come back to the community. She has been ready to be a productive and loving neighbor and family member.
Now, she has limited time left.
As the leader of Michigan, Gov. Whitmer is responsible for caring deeply about what happens to people once they are sentenced to our state prison system and setting policy priorities that align with the values of her platform. She believes in racial justice and has worked to implement task forces and policies that reflect her vision of racial equity and reconciliation.
Two-thirds of people sentenced to life in the US are people of color (see Sentencing Project). Michigan is ranked number four in the country for sending women to prison for life without parole (see In the Extreme, Ashley Nellis, 2021). Fifty percent of the 197 women serving life with and life without parole in Michigan are women of color (AFSC data tracked from Offender Tracking Information System).
Prisons are, unfortunately, places of violent policies, scarcity, and control. They are not places of healing or compassion, though many people living inside tap into their deep resources and do great healing work on their own—not because of the $2.2 billion spent on locking people up.
Ms. Theresa is now sick. She has moved from being among women she knew and loved and cared about, to living in the infirmary inside the prison. She has no freedom of movement, and her care is less than community standard care. At times it is negligent care (missing days of medications, missed hospital appointments due to miscommunication and security and control).
She was 20 when she was involved in the actions that led her to living the last 46 years in prison. Her son was forced to grow up with an absent mother.
Modern research and data demonstrate that governments should be revisiting long sentencing policies. There is no penological purpose to keeping a human locked up in extreme conditions ever, but more than 10 years does not serve any rehabilitative purpose and is only about punishment and warehousing.
Urge Gov. Whitmer to use her clemency power and speedily give Ms. Theresa and those who come after her compassionate release.