Presumptive Parole Bill Reintroduced to the House
- School-to-Prison Pipeline
- Child Welfare Crossover
- Mental Health
- Juvenile Defense
- Juvenile Competency
- In-Home Care Incentive
- PREA, Isolation, Restraint
- Youth in Adult System
- Juvenile Life Without Parole
- Youth Reentry
By: Barry Lewis
HB 4138, better known as the presumptive parole bill, has been reintroduced and is moving through the Michigan Legislature. Sponsored by Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth), it would create the presumption that a person will be released on parole if he or she is not deemed to be a menace to society, has a high probably of release, and there are no substantial or compelling reasons to deny release. But there are a few caveats: it would not apply to those serving life, nor would it create an expectation of parole for anyone sentenced to prison.
Michigan’s “tough on crime” sentencing policies, like the ones being addressed by HB 4138 have led to the increase of prison stay lengths across the state that is far longer than the national average. According to a recent Pew Report, prisoners in Michigan serve prison terms longer than inmates in any other state. The report details that people in Michigan prisons serve average terms of 4.3 years, compared to the national average of 2.9 years for the same crime.
Of course, longer sentencing leads directly into increased state spending, hurting all Michiganders. Currently, the state spends an average of $35,000 to house a single inmate for a year. With the daily count rate hovering at 43,759, this reaches over the $2 billion mark on housing costs alone—much more than Michigan spends on education or public assistance. And there is always the added human cost—incarceration almost always increases recidivism, reentry support is consistently forgotten, and prison stays can easily tear family and communities apart.
Providing a presumption of parole is a good first start to undoing these costly polices. House Fiscal Agency estimates that the bill will dramatically decrease the number of beds and associated costs necessary to house prisoners. The savings could be up to $82 million and result in the closing of two prisons over time.
Though the bill looks to benefit the state and relieve costly pressure from the Michigan Department of Corrections’ budget, there has been a great deal of opposition. The massive projected state savings are considered long term, but locally there may be an immediate and detrimental effect on county and sheriff budgets. Along with the local financial opposition, according to Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette, presumptive parole would release violent criminals back into society.
Nonetheless, concerns like these are misguided, if not a bit presumptive themselves. Safeguards will be in place to prevent anyone from leaving prison that is not ready for release. Eligibility for parole is not automatic and only available for those deemed most ready for release and served their minimum prison sentence. The parole board still maintains its discretion to deny parole if there are “substantial and compelling reasons” including, but not limited to an institutional misconduct score lower than -1; evidence of harm to a victim that had not been previously considered; a pending felony charge or detainer; or if release would otherwise be barred by law. Moreover, competency and risk assessment scores to gauge the chance of reoffending are to be included in the final evaluation. There is little reason not to consider these individuals for parole after these checks and balances are in place.