1. Will HB 4138 change the basic parole process in Michigan?
Not at all. Parole guidelines that have been in effect since 1992 assess the risk of a prisoner reoffending. The statute has always said that prisoners being considered for parole who score low risk on the guidelines should be released unless the parole board has “substantial and compelling reasons” to deny parole. The statutory standard prohibiting the parole board from granting release unless it has reasonable assurance that the person will not be a threat to public safety will remain untouched.
2. What problem is this bill intended to fix?
Inadequate compliance with the existing parole guidelines. The parole board has defined “substantial and compelling reasons” very loosely and often appears to deny release to low-risk offenders based on the reactions of individual board members to the offense. By punishing people longer than the sentencing judge intended, the board is effectively engaging in resentencing. The bill would simply define substantial and compelling reasons so they are relevant to the prisoner’s current risk and effectively implement the current parole guidelines.
3. Will the bill grant early release to any prisoners?
Every prisoner will continue to serve the entire minimum term imposed by the sentencing judge before becoming eligible for parole consideration. But the research shows there is no connection between how long someone is incarcerated and the likelihood of reoffending. There is simply no public safety benefit to keeping demonstrably low-risk people locked up beyond their minimum sentences.
4. Will the bill jeopardize public safety by releasing violent offenders?
Absolutely not. Many prisoners are serving sentences for assaultive or sex offenses. The length of their minimum sentences reflects the seriousness of their crimes and their prior criminal history. But the offense someone committed, perhaps decades ago, and his or her current risk for reoffending are very different things. In fact, homicide and sex offenders have by far the lowest recidivism rates of any offender group.
And, since the bill only applies to low-risk parolees, the likelihood they will commit a new assaultive offense is extremely low. MDOC data for people paroled from 2009-2011 shows that 96 of 100 people with high parole guidelines scores do not return to prison for even a low-level assaultive offense.
5. Will the bill send thousands of additional parolees back into communities at local expense?
Currently about 10,000 prisoners return to their communities every year. About two-thirds are released within six months of completing their minimum sentences. Since the bill will only apply to people whose crimes occur after the effective date, there will not be substantially more people paroled immediately. Phasing in the impact over time means that by Year 5, in every large county but Wayne, the annual number of additional people returning to their communities will be 50-100. Even in Wayne County the number in Year 5 will be about 300. And the cost of those people to the counties will be minimal because they are at such low risk of reoffending.
6. Can anyone guarantee that a parolee released under the bill’s terms will not commit a new crime?
No. No one can perfectly predict what anyone will do at some point in the future when faced with some unknowable combination of circumstances. All we can expect the parole board to do is thoughtfully examine the information it has about individual prisoners, apply the risk-assessment tools available and exercise its best judgment. HB 4138 is designed to help the board do exactly that.
7. Has HB 4138 been rushed through without adequate time for discussion??
Absolutely not. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth), conducted a workgroup that met for many hours over a period of several months. The diverse group of stakeholders who were represented included: the Attorney General, prosecuting attorneys, judges, defense attorneys, the counties, the sheriffs, corrections reform advocates and the Dept. of Corrections. The resulting bill was the product of extensive negotiation and substantial compromise.
8. Is it better to build criminal justice policy on research-based knowledge than on fear-based rhetoric?
We have learned enormous amounts about what works to reduce crime and what does not. We have no reason to stay wedded to “tough on crime” practices that are tired campaign slogans, not good public policy. A recent CAPPS-sponsored poll shows the public overwhelmingly supports reducing Corrections costs and sensible reforms like presumptive parole. Policy should be made on the basis of evidence and long-term trends, not isolated incidents, however tragic.
9. Can we make a $2 billion government agency more cost-effective?
Of course we can. Five years from now,HB 4138 would reduce the prisoner population by 3,200 and save taxpayers $75 million a year. We are keeping low-risk people who have served their time for years longer than the law requires. If this does not actually increase public safety, why waste the money and the lives?
10. Should citizens be able to trust that elected law enforcement officials are giving them accurate information?
They should. One would assume that top elected law enforcement officials would accurately convey how the parole system works and the content of legislation they have chosen to attack. Unfortunately, that assumption would be wrong. Whatever their motives, the opponents of HB 4138 have mounted a massive fear-based disinformation campaign to defeat this modest reform.