Parole in Michigan

The Michigan Parole Board is comprised of a ten member board, with each member appointed by the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The Parole Board meets regularly to review cases and decide whether or not to grant applications for parole.

Generally, in order to become eligible for parole, a felony offender must serve the minimum sentence with the MDOC. Exceptions to this requirement include persons that successfully complete the MDOC SAI prisoner boot camp and after care program, certain drug offenses, and individuals who are pardoned or whose sentence is commuted by the Governor. Prisoners serving only a non indeterminate sentence (sentences that don’t contain both a minimum and maximum sentence, such as prisoners serving time for a felony firearm conviction or an individual serving a HYTA prison sentence) are not subject to parole board review, and are released from custody for that particular offense once the sentence is served.

A prisoner who is serving a life sentence (except for first degree, felony murder, or another similar natural life offense) is interviewed by the Michigan Parole Board only after the prisoner has served either 10 or 15 years of their sentence, depending upon the date of the offense. After the initial Parole Board review, if the life offense prisoner is denied parole, the Parole Board is required to review the case at five year intervals. The Michigan Parole Board has the discretion to parole eligible life offense once the prisoner has served 10 or 15 years if the sentencing Judge does not object. Parole eligible life offenders require a public hearing, input form the victim (if available), and vote of the entire Michigan Parole Board.  In most other cases, the Michigan Parole Board decides the fate of a particular parole applicant by a panel of 3 Michigan Parole Board members.

A prisoner serving a natural non-parole eligible life offense  may be released from prison only if the conviction is reversed through a successful appeal or a successful motion for relief from judgment, or if the prisoner receives a pardon or commutation of his or her sentence from the Governor.  In most cases, persons serving natural life never gain release from custody.

According to MCL 791.233, even after serving the minimum sentence, a prisoner may not be paroled until the Michigan Parole Board has reasonable assurances, after considering all the facts and circumstances, that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or a risk to the public safety.  The Parole Board takes several steps to make sure that its decision is based upon accurate and relevant information.

A Parole Eligibility Report (PER) is prepared on behalf of the prisoner by a staff member of the MDOC. This report informs the Parole Board of the background of an inmate-applicant, and makes sure the applicant’s parole file is complete. The PER also makes recommendations to the Parole Board for each applicant. The factors ultimately considered by the Parole Board include the nature of the conviction, the prisoner’s criminal history, the inmate’s behavior in prison (whether or not he or she received misconduct tickets), whether or not her or she participated in programs and how well he or she performed, age, health, parole guidelines score, and risk if released as determined by the interview and assessment scores. The assessment scores are objective criteria designed to reduce disparity in parole decisions and to increase the efficiency of the parole decision process.   The factors used in the parole guidelines are set forth in Administrative Rule 791.7716. The victim (or victims) of the conviction offense or offenses is allowed to provide their opinion and the reasons for that opinion.

The Michigan Parole Board takes into consideration the presentence investigation report (PSIR) that is prepared for each Defendant before a sentence is imposed by a Circuit Court Judge in Michigan. It is critical that the Defense lawyer makes a good record to correct  errors in this report at the time of sentencing so that mistakes are not held against the parole applicant.

Interviews of the parole applicant are informal and (theoretically) non adversarial, that occur with one or more Parole Board members that are assigned to the prisoner’s parole panel. A typical parole interview lasts 15 to 20 minutes. The parole applicant is given the opportunity to address why he or she should be granted parole. He or she can address misconduct tickets received, the applicable programs he or she completed (such as mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, sex offender counseling, etc.), plans for release, and other relevant issues. A prisoner’s remorse and attitude are always important considerations for a Parole Board member.  If an applicant has not completed all of the requirements set forth in the judgment of sentence (such as recommended programs while incarcerated), or if the file is otherwise incomplete, this is noted in the Parole Eligibility Report and parole will usually be denied.

Parole may be ordered without an interview if the prisoner’s parole guidelines place the individual in the high probability of parole range (which is +4 or above), unless the conviction offense is for a sex offense or involves the death of another person. A prisoner can be denied parole without even being interviewed if the parole guideline score places the individual in a low probability of parole range (which is -13 or lower).

The Michigan Parole Board has the ability to depart from the guideline range only if there are substantial and compelling reasons to do so. The decision by the Michigan Parole Board to depart from parole guidelines must be made in writing.

The Prosecutor for the original conviction has the ability to object and appeal the ruling of the Michigan Parole Board to a Circuit Court Judge if the Prosecutor disagrees with the decision of the Parole Board. Appeals are rare, and are usually only pursued against the most egregious of offenders that have been granted parole.  The Prosecutor can even seek to stay the release of the parolee pending the decision of the appeal.

Under the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, the Parole Board and the MDOC are required to formulate a Transition Accountability Plan (TAP) for each prisoner facing parole eligibility. The TAP serves the dual goals of assisting the prisoner with re-entry into our society, as well as assisting the Board with its parole decision. The TAP identifies specific risk factors for a particular inmate, sets goals relative to minimizing the identified risks, and sets forth a specific plan to help the inmate meet the established goals.

From the time that the Michigan Parole Board decides to release a prisoner the prisoner’s behavior continues to be monitored. The Michigan Parole Board can suspend the decision to release a prisoner or parolee if it learns of any misconduct committed by that person while under the Michigan Parole Board’s jurisdiction.

Prisoner reentry into society is a difficult topic for sex offenders, violent offenders, and recidivists. There is always a concern by a Michigan Parole Board member or a Michigan Parole Agent that he or she will be criticized, reprimanded, and/or fired for decisions related to particular parolees.

For sex offenders in Michigan, persons released on parole may be subject to specialized supervision. These types of offenders are monitored more closely, which more stringent conditions placed upon them such as no contact with children, no use of computers, comply with sex offender registration requirements, not to be within 1000 feet of schools and other locations frequented by children, complete sex offender treatment, tether, and polygraph examinations. As a result of a conviction for Criminal Sexual Conduct in the First Degree and Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Second Degree the person may be subject to having their movements and location electronically monitored by the Michigan Department of Corrections through the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) tether for the balance of the parolee’s lifetime for which the parolee is responsible for the cost.

Other recidivists being paroled and higher risk parolees may be monitored for curfews and their location in the community by electronic monitoring devices such as GPS tethers and other types of tethering devices. The tether system, theoretically, allows the MDOC to tell whether an offender is complying with the supervision requirements of his or her placement.  S.C.R.A.M. (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring) is used to provide continuous alcohol monitoring.

There are also programs geared for higher risk parolees:

The Intensive Detention Reentry Program (commonly referred to as the IDROP program) is intended for use in chronic non-compliance parole cases in which community supervision is likely to be continued in which there is a need for short term placement. The MDOC houses parolees placed in the IDROP program at the Ingham County Jail and the Clinton County Jail for up to 120 days. IDROP helps offenders with housing, treatment, and employment issues to successfully transition back into society. Parolees are able to participate in a seminar regarding Michigan Works employment opportunities and attend Thinking Matters, which is a short term cognitive behavioral program.

Technical Rule Violator centers (commonly referred to as TRV) provide a short term incarceration sanction in lieu of being returned to prison for incarceration.

Lake County Residential Reentry Program. Male and female parolees are eligible for this program as a condition for parole for 90 to 120 days. This program offers programming as an intervention to address certain negative behaviors. Programming includes substance abuse education, cognitive behavior therapy, employment placement assistance, AA/NA, and public works programs such as adopt a highway, habitat for humanity, etc.

Tuscola Residential Reentry Program. Residents placed at this facility include parolees placed directly from a prison or other MDOC facility as a condition of parole, some parole violators, and persons pending placement under interstate agreements between different states (for example, a prisoner from another state who is convicted of a crime in Michigan, goes to prison, and wishes to serve their parole in their home state). Programming includes domestic violence counseling, substance abuse counseling, parenting classes, cognitive thinking issues, financial/budgeting issues, employment preparation, 12 step programs, family reunification, and other programs meant to target the prisoners’ needs.

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