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Monday, May 2, 2016

Navigating the Mich. Parole Board Prisoner Release Process

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Despite the fact that crime has consistently been on the decline the past several years, the media's over-reporting of crime has generated an array of public fears and raised concerns about the parole process.

These fears have grown exponentially when it comes to reporting about the cases of juvenile lifers. These prisoners will be resentenced in the coming months, and many of them will become parole eligible.

Juvenile lifers are those prisoners who were convicted when they were juveniles and received mandatory life without parole sentences. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that such sentences are unconstitutional.

In Michigan no juvenile lifer who is resentenced will be released from court after resentencing. Each is required to return to prison to have their case reviewed by the Parole Board for release consideration.

Release evaluations consist of several variables. Some of them include the nature of the crime, prisoner's role in the crime, prisoner's security level, and misconduct history. Previous incarceration and parole history, program completions, and a psychological evaluation are also considered.

When prisoners become parole eligible they are interviewed by a Parole Board member and asked several important questions. Some of the questions include why the crime was committed, what their role in the crime was, what they have been doing with their time while incarcerated, what their plans are upon release, etc.

Prisoners are also asked questions to learn about the insight they have developed during their incarceration. The Parole Board wants to know what they have learned about themselves and the actions that lead to their criminal behavior, how they have changed their thinking and behavior, how/if they express empathy, etc.

The Parole Board must be reasonably convinced a prisoner will not pose a danger to society if released or they will not parole the prisoner. In some instances parole denials can and have spanned several years until the Parole Board feels the prisoner is ready for release.

Theoretically a prisoner who receives a 25 to 60 year sentence could remain imprisoned 60 years. They would only become eligible to begin receiving parole "consideration" after serving 25 years. They could be released in 30 years, 45 years, or as long as 60 years.

Though no two cases are the same, the Parole Board applies its public safety litmus test equally and scrutinizes their list of variables in each situation.

The mere fact that a prisoner becomes parole eligible is not a mandate for their release. It is simply an opportunity for the Parole Board to begin "considering" their release.

Michigan citizens can feel safe knowing that qualified professionals are reviewing each case of parole eligibility. Many states do not even have Parole Boards and prisoners are released upon becoming parole eligible.

While the Parole Board cannot predict every prisoner's future behavior, the tools they use help them protect the public and vastly minimize future recidivism.

Inherent in the parole process is the offer of second chances, acknowledgment of rehabilitation and the concept of redemption. It is a process that recognizes change.

The parole process is not intended to be a mechanism that metes out death by incarceration sentences or a creative alternative to the death penalty.
The door should never be closed to the idea of reformation. If it is, prisons will become veritable graveyards of hopes and dreams.