News | Lifers | Parole | April 10, 2012

By Paul D. Reingold, University of Michigan Law School, Bridge Magazine, guest editorial

Paul D. Reingold is a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School and was lead counsel in the case of Foster-Bey v. Booker, challenging the post-1992 drop in lifer paroles as a violation of the ex post facto clause.

In the public debate over how to save money in corrections, one group is consistently overlooked — the roughly 850 “parolable lifers” who are eligible for release. Paroling just half of them could save about $16 million a year.

And the risk to the public would be almost zero.

In Michigan, serious offenses short of first degree murder are punishable by parolable life or a term of years — whichever the sentencing judge chooses. By statute, parolable lifers have to serve a minimum of either 10 or 15 years, depending on when they committed the crime.

As a practical matter, for decades lifers who behaved well in prison would be released in about 15 years. Judges, Michigan Department of Corrections administrators and parole board members expected lifers to be evaluated just like people who committed similar crimes, but received sentences of 15-30 or 20-40 years. As Frank Buchko, a parole board member from 1962-1974, said: “The fact that someone was a lifer … had no bearing on the case. The only question was whether or not the person would be a threat to society if released.”

Read>> Parolable lifers are safe to release; Expensive to keep