Editorial: Presumptive Parole is safe for Michigan

Enquirer editorial board 7:25 p.m. EDT October 15, 2015:

It’s infuriating when politicians, bereft of facts, resort to fear-mongering to get their way in public policy debates. When it’s the state’s top law enforcement official, it’s disgraceful.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s intransigence on so-called “tough on crime” policies is nothing new, but he sinks to a new low in his opposition HB 4138, better known as the presumptive parole bill.

This bipartisan legislation, which cleared the Michigan House of Representatives earlier this month, would save Michigan taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing prison populations without compromising public safety.

More importantly, it would give inmates with good behavior the opportunity to rebuild their lives — and become productive taxpayers — after completing their minimum sentences.

In other words, there’s little if any downside, which is why it has the support of Gov. Rick Snyder.

So Schuette, whose gubernatorial ambitions are well known, is manufacturing a downside.

Schuette derisively refers to the bill as “autopilot parole” and “catch and release.” His campaign-style assault includes appearances on WKAR’s “Off the Record,” where he’s called the bill “elitist,” because apparently people living in nice areas need not worry about former prisoners invading their neighborhoods.

So transparent a contrivance would give most people pause about Schuette’s position, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt, the facts on this bill speak for themselves.

Far from an autopilot program or an early release, the bill would simply create the presumption that model inmates — those who have earned merit for good behavior — would be released providing there were no substantial or compelling reasons to deny their parole.

The bill would not strip parole boards of their discretion, nor would it apply to those serving life sentences. What it does do, however, is add a measure of fairness to the state’s corrections system.

According to the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending, there are about 5,500 people who are eligible for parole today, many of them having served years longer than the minimum sentences imposed by judges.

This makes no sense in a state that is drowning under the burden of a bloated corrections system in which draconian sentencing policies have led to prison stays far longer than the national average.

Michigan spends $2 billion a year on corrections. The bill’s sponsor, Plymouth Republican Kurt Heise, told The Detroit News that the legislation, within 10 years, would reduce the prison population by 3,200 and save about $75 million to $85 million annually.

In an analysis for the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency, communications consultant Barry Lewis writes that concerns about releasing violent criminals back into society are at best misguided.

“Safeguards will be in place to prevent anyone from leaving prison that is not ready for release,” he wrote. “Moreover, competency and risk assessment scores to gauge the chance of reoffending are to be included in the final evaluation.”

In defending the legislation against Schuette’s attack, Snyder said, “Michigan needs a smarter criminal justice system that doesn’t simply punish people who commit crimes, but frees up resources that can instead be used on effective efforts to reduce criminal activity and make our communities safer.”

The governor is right, and the presumptive parole bill is a good first step.

Follow this link to see the editorial on the Battle Creek Enquirer’s website.