Click here to download pdf of the full report: Paroling people who committed serious crimes: What is the actual risk?

We can safely parole hundreds of people who committed very serious crimes. CAPPS’s new report, using Michigan Department of Corrections data on returns to prison for new crimes, echoes decades of research in Michigan and other jurisdictions that finds that simply keeping people incarcerated longer does not increase public safety. This report provides important evidence to support real reform of Michigan’s parole process. Below is the executive summary:

Executive summary

The Michigan parole board routinely continues, i.e. declines to parole, prisoners who have served their judicially imposed minimum sentences and are eligible for release.

  • Thousands are continued four, five, six times or more at great cost to taxpayers as well as to the prisoners and their families.
  • Many of those denied score favorably on the Michigan Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) parole guidelines and other risk assessment instruments.
  • A large proportion was convicted of homicide or sex offenses. They are continued because, based on their crimes, they are perceived to be a risk to public safety.

Decades of research in Michigan and other jurisdictions shows:

  • People who commit homicides or sex offenses have extremely low re-offense rates overall and almost never return to prison for committing a new crime of the same type. The fact that someone committed a very serious offense in the past does not mean they are currently a risk to the public.
  • There is no evidence that keeping someone incarcerated longer increases public safety.

This research is confirmed by the very low re-offense rates of Michigan homicide and sex offenders paroled from 2007 through the first quarter of 2010. More than 99 percent did not return to prison within three years with a new sentence for a similar offense.

  • Of 820 people who had been serving for murder or manslaughter, two (0.2 percent) returned to prison for a new homicide.
  • Of 4,109 people who had been serving for a sex offense, 32 (0.8 percent) returned to prison for a new sex offense.

In fact, in 2009 and 2010, returns to prison with new sentences actually decreased, despite the release of more than 1,000 additional people serving for homicide and sex offenses as a result of the parole board’s continuance review process.