LANSING, MI (WLNS) – It’s a debate over probability of parole, its influence on public safety, and financial impact on state and local correctional facilities.
Should non-violent criminals who have served their minimum sentence be paroled in exchange for good behavior?
Some Michigan lawmakers say “yes.”
In October, the Michigan House of Representatives passed what’s called the presumptive parole bill.
Lawmakers who support the measure say it will cut costs and reduce the prison population, however some law enforcement officials say it will pose a dangerous threat to the public.
“Parole should be earned, it shouldn’t be a right,” Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said. “And I think that’s how the DOC is looking at it is that it’s a right, and we should just give it to them.”
Presumptive parole would allow an inmate to be released after completing their minimum sentence, unless the parole board deems them to be a menace to society.
It’s all determined by a long list of parole guidelines developed by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
For example, an inmate could be denied if there’s DNA evidence linked to an unsolved criminal violation.
“It doesn’t automatically say it’s your earliest release date you will be paroled, it’s just they have the ability to go before the board like they do now,” Chris Gautz, Public Information Officer for the Michigan Dept. of Corrections said. “What this bill does, is it sets up a specified list of reasons why a low-risk offender would not be allowed to be paroled.”
But the idea of this bill becoming law, isn’t sitting well with law enforcement.
“You’re not protecting the public by releasing felons who have proven a proclivity to break the law.. They’re not in prison because they were being good,” Terry Jungel, Michigan Sheriff’s Association Executive Director said.
Most recently, officials in Ingham County responded to a call from a woman saying three unknown suspects were trying to break into her home.
It turned out two of the three suspects were on parole.
Sheriff Wriggelsworth said it’s a situation like this, that’s concerning.
“We’re a finite resource, we can’t chase the same guy day, after day, after day, and that’s what this boils down to,” he said.
“There’s a victim’s voice that needs to be heard in all of this,” Jungel said. “If I’m a victim of a crime and I hear somebody sentenced to prison two to 15, I heard the 15, the defendant probably heard the two.”
If this bill were to become law, Gautz said over the next 10 years, the Michigan Department of Corrections projects it could save the state millions of dollars.
“It could reduce the prison population to the extent that we might be able to close upwards of two prisons just by the numbers, roughly 3,000 prisoners would be fewer prisoners we would have,” Gautz said.
In Michigan right now, the recidivism rate is at 30 percent, which is the second lowest rate it’s been in state history.
Again, the bill is up for consideration in the senate. If passed, it will not apply to those who are in prison right now, but only prisoners in the future.
Governor Rick Snyder backs this legislation; however Attorney General Bill Schuette is opposed to it.