On Tuesday, June 9, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections held a meeting to discuss the prison population and the Michigan Department of Corrections’ response to the Covid-19 crisis. However, due to pending litigation, the review of the MDOC’s response to Covid-19 is delayed until a future meeting.
What can’t be delayed or denied is the impact the virus is having on Michigan’s prisons and the people who live inside them.
Prisons in Michigan have experienced a 5 percent population decrease since March, when the closing of the state due to the coronavirus pandemic began. As of June 5, the prison population was 35,957. The last time that the MDOC had a prison population less than 36,000 was 30 years ago, in 1990.
As explained by Kyle Kaminiski, Offender Success Administrator and Legislative Liaison for the MDOC, there are two reasons for the decrease. First, the corrections system saw changes to prison intake. Second, there was an increase in paroles, with almost 2,000 people released on parole since March 20. Kaminski carefully noted that none of those released on parole were released early. Michigan law does not allow the release of incarcerated people before the completion of their minimum sentence, as we have highlighted in prior blogs and a webinar regarding Truth in Sentencing.
The MDOC reports despite the increase in the number of people who have been granted parole, the parole board grant approval rate has remained steady between 72-76 percent. Because there is a delay between the granting of a parole and a person’s actual release date, some of these releases will continue to be realized in the following months. The most paroles were granted in April, which will result in higher numbers of people being released later in the year.
In addition, more paroles granted now will mean fewer granted in coming months. These are cases that were pulled forward — people who had been denied parole before but were likely to be granted parole later in the year. That means that we can expect to see a decrease in the parole grant rate later in the year. The people we would have expected to see be granted a parole then will have already been sent home.
The increase in the number of people paroled is an important part of the decrease in the prison population, but it is not the whole story. Kaminski also explained that intake has significantly decreased during this time as well. This is primarily due to the executive order suspending the transfer of persons in jail to prison, the closing of most courts statewide, and fewer people being returned to prison for technical parole violations. While intake has been low for this period, it is likely that it will increase as transfers from jail to prison restart, and courts around the state begin to reopen.
However, while the population has been decreasing, the MDOC has had to increase capacity in order to allow for social distancing and to separate people infected with COVID-19 from people who are not. They have done this by reopening facilities that previously closed. As highlighted by the Detroit Free Press, Kaminski said, “we would not support reducing prison capacity,” because to control the spread of the virus, “we need the space to spread people out.”
You can watch the full presentation, and listen to the question and answer session here:
Safe & Just Michigan supports the protecting people in prison during the COVID-19 crisis, and continues to support and advocate various policies that could safely reduce our prison population while maintaining public safety.