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The Michigan Department of Corrections has tried to contain its $2 billion annual budget through techniques like slashing reentry funding, reducing the pay of corrections officers and raising the cost of telephone calls for prisoner families. Largely overlooked are the substantial savings to be gained by increasing the release rate for the roughly 850 parolable lifers who are aging, low-risk and long overdue for the paroles that their sentencing judges intended. The potential savings of roughly $17 million a year could be used in ways that actually keep communities safer, like rehiring laid off police officers, investing in education or treating mental illness.
Two CAPPS reports explain who the parolable lifers are and why their release has been delayed for decades, despite the intentions of the “lifer law” and the expectations of sentencing judges. It details the costs of these delays to taxpayers, to the integrity of the criminal justice system and to prisoners and their families. They also show how the legislature can effectively address these problems by simply restoring the parole review practices used in the past.
Michigan’s Parolable Lifers: The cost of a broken process:
This report provides a demographic snapshot of the parolable lifers as a group. Using graphs, the report shows their age at offense, sentencing year and current age, offense type and re-offense risk. It demonstrates that:
- More than 80 percent of the currently eligible lifers were sentenced before the laws regarding them began to change in 1992;
- Ten percent were under 18 when they committed their crimes;
- Nearly 55 percent are age 55 or over; and,
- Of 613 parolable lifers who are age 50 or older, 491 have served at least 25 years while nearly 240 have served 35 years or more.
Parolable Lifers in Michigan: Paying the price of unchecked discretion describes:
- What the lifer law was originally intended to accomplish and how it actually worked until the late 1980s;
- How broad judicial discretion allowed judges to impose either life or a long term-of-years for similar offenses and offenders, with the understanding that both types of sentences would result in similar actual amounts of time served;
- The changes in parole board policies and practices that caused the number of lifer paroles to plummet and the pool of eligible lifers to grow;
- How the exercise of unchecked discretion by both the parole board and successor sentencing judges leads to unexplained and, often, inexplicable decisions to continue lifers for five years at a time, at a cost of $200,000 per prisoner; and,
- Recommendations for changes in the parole review process that would not require the release of any particular individual or affect the rights of victims.
House Bill 4809 would amend the lifer law to implement many of the recommendations contained in these reports.
Michigan Department of Corrections Professionals Comment on Lifer Paroles:
is a statement representing the views of corrections professionals who have personally known hundreds of parolable lifers for decades. The 28 signatories include three former MDOC directors, two former parole board chairs, seven wardens and other former personnel whose extensive experience is beyond dispute.
They are in the best possible position to describe how parolable lifers mature and why their re-offense risk declines over time. Baffled by the continued incarceration of many lifers they have known, these experts support the prompt and thorough consideration by the Michigan Parole Board of prisoners serving parolable life terms and the elimination of the authority of successor sentencing judges to prevent a lifer’s parole.