Safe & Just Michigan advances policies that will reduce the risk of inconsistent parole decisions for similarly-situated incarcerated people. We support policies focused on an objective process for determining a person’s credible risk to community safety. A parole process that is transparent and predictable encourages an incarcerated person to invest in their own rehabilitation.
Longer Stays, Higher Costs
The size of Michigan’s prison population is driven in large part by prisoners’ average length of stay, byproducts of the state’s sentencing and parole policies. People incarcerated in Michigan serve nearly 17 months longer than the national norm. Michigan prisoners’ length of stay is not only exceptionally long, it is steadily growing, with an increase that exceeded other states over the last two decades.
Michigan’s criminal justice system relies on indeterminate sentencing. At sentencing, a person receives a sentence for an indeterminate period, such as 5 – 15 years. The person’s minimum sentence determines when a person becomes eligible for parole. This is often referred to as a person’s “earliest release date” or “ERD”. In Michigan, there is no guarantee of release on this date, and many incarcerated people are denied parole for years beyond their minimum sentence.
Unnecessarily long periods of incarceration exacerbate the challenges that face communities and individuals following their release: connections with family members are further disrupted; housing options are further limited; employment barriers are further heightened. Parole policies that keep low-risk people incarcerated also come at the expense of Michigan taxpayers, without a corresponding improvement in public safety.
Best practices in parole policy
Long periods of incarceration are not necessary to maintain community safety. There are best practices in parole policy that can improve the objectivity, fairness, and transparency of the parole decision-making process without any cost to public safety, and ensure that people are not incarcerated longer than necessary.
Parole supervision policy should similarly be evidence-based, and should not impose unnecessary burdens on, or barriers to, a person’s success in the community. However, currently parolees are required to adhere to many burdensome conditions restricting conduct that is not otherwise criminal, and which are not evidence-based. This results in people returning to prison for noncriminal behavior that does not evidence risk to the public.
We support strategies that focus on improving a person’s success while in the community and believe that supervision conditions and revocation standards should be based evidence of risk to the community.
Solutions for special populations
Long length of stay has resulted in an elderly prison population. Over 20 percent of the incarcerated population in Michigan is over the age of 50. Many of these individuals require expensive, specialized medical care as they become frail and ill with age.
Safe & Just Michigan supports parole strategies that will reduce prison health care costs while providing the aging and medically frail population a more appropriate setting for their care. Not only is this a cost saving approach, as this population is more expensive to confine, it allows the Michigan Department of Corrections to focus on other critical functions, such as programming and vocational training.