New parole guidelines give inmates more answers; aims to reduce recidivism

With 11 specific reasons for denial written into the code, a new parole law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder is designed to clarify the process for inmates, and reduce recidivism. (FILE)

With 11 specific reasons for denial written into the state code, a new parole law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder is designed to clarify the process for inmates, and reduce recidivism.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Walled Lake, House Bill 5377 is now Michigan law. It contains 11 different reasons members of the 10-person Parole Board can use to deny an inmate parole. Defined as “substantial and compelling objective reasons for a departure from the parole guidelines for a prisoner with a high probability of parole” the reasons are:

  • Prisoner exhibits a pattern of ongoing behavior while incarcerated indicating that he or she would be a substantial risk to public safety; this would include major misconduct or additional criminal convictions.
  • Prisoner refuses to participate in programming ordered by the Michigan Department of Corrections to reduce the prisoner’s risk; a prisoner could not be considered to have refused programming if he or she is unable to complete factors beyond his or her control.
  • Verified objective evidence of substantial harm to a victim that could not have been available for consideration at the time of sentencing.
  • Prisoner has threatened to harm another person if released.
  • Objective evidence of post-sentencing conduct, not already scored under the parole guidelines, that the prisoner would present a high risk to public safety if paroled.
  • Prisoner is a suspect in an unsolved criminal case being actively investigated.
  • Prisoner has a pending felony charge or is subject to a detainer request from another jurisdiction.
  • Release is otherwise barred by law.
  • Prisoner has not yet completed programming ordered by the corrections department to reduce his or her risk; programming is not available in the community; and the risk cannot be adequately managed in the community prior to completion; Parole Board could deny parole for up to one year to such prisoner to allow for completion of the ordered programming; prisoner must receive parole consideration within 30 days after completing the programming.
  • Prisoner fails to present a parole plan that adequately addresses his or her identified risks and needs to ensure that he or she will not present a risk to public safety if paroled; Parole Board would have to provide a prisoner who was denied parole under this provision with a detailed explanation of the deficiencies in the parole plan so that he or she could address the deficiencies before the next review.
  • Prisoner has received a psychological evaluation in the previous three years indicating he or she would present a high risk to public safety if paroled.

These 11 guidelines will not be used for offenders serving life sentences.

Kesto said his bill puts into law some objectivity in the parole process, which he said, wasn’t always the case.

“So now there are objective standards. If you do these things, then you will get out,” Kesto said. “Versus the current standard is, well we don’t know if the person is going to be a danger to society, these are the guidelines we have to go by and it doesn’t take into account a rehabilitative standard.”

Those rehabilitative standards he said, are a critical part of the corrections system.

“The Department of Corrections – corrections, meaning we have to correct people,” Kesto said. “If they have done programs to rehabilitate themselves, why would we keep them around?”

Gov. Rick Snyder, in a written statement on the parole law, said, “As we work to help ex-offenders successfully reenter society, it’s important that we have objective parole guidelines in place to enhance public safety.”

Snyder also said that signing this law "codifies existing practice."

Michigan Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer agreed with the govenor's assessment.

“Most of this was already being done by the Parole Board and this prevents it from being changed in the future and maintains our path to success,” Kramer said.

The most noticeable difference in the law is the explicit instructions to the board to give prisoners a reason why parole was denied.

“So, they [prisoners] have clearer understanding of why their parole was being denied and what they need to do to work toward parole going forward,” Kramer said.

Jennifer Cobbina, a Michigan State University criminal justice professor, said that explanation is critical to the inmates’ morale and personal behavior.

“If the Parole Board is informing them, ‘Hey listen, if you are taking educational courses, if you are taking advantage of all these programs and we’re seeing you are trying to improve yourself, then when you do all these things, we’re more likely to approve your parole’,” Cobbina said.

When inmates go through the training programs and have the guidance to do so, if they are paroled and released, Cobbina said, the recidivism rate decreases.

“Communities are better off when the recidivism rate is lower,” she said.

The Michigan corrections department said its current recidivism rate is 28.1 percent, an historic low for the state. Michigan now has the lowest prisoner population since 1995, with 39,000 inmates. With various vocational education programs offered through the corrections department, and focus on evidence-based practices, Kramer said, the goal is to keep the recidivism rate as low as possible while reducing the number of inmates.

Only those inmates who have been deemed as low-risk appear before the Parole Board for potential release.

“That means there is reason to believe that if released, those inmates will not re-offend,” Kramer said.

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