Evidence-based parole reform bill (HB 4138) is an important step forward
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  • on October 21, 2015 -

Evidence-based parole reform bill (HB 4138) is an important step forward

Click here to download the CAPPS Summary of HB 4138 

CAPPS has long worked to establish a presumption of parole for prisoners who are a low risk to public safety. On June 16, the House Criminal Justice Committee voted 7-1 to report a bill to the House Floor that establishes a statutory presumption of parole under certain circumstances. HB 4138 (H-4) is a critical step forward in the fight for comprehensive parole reform. The bill:

  • States that parole upon service of the minimum sentence is presumed for people who score high probability of release on parole guidelines.
  • Defines the specific “substantial and compelling reasons” that permit departing from the presumption.
  • Increases the frequency of reviews for people with both high probability scores who were denied parole.
  • Requires detailed annual reports about parole denials.
  • Would save up to 3,200 prison beds and $75 million within five years of enactment.

The need for presumptive parole:

Over time, thousands of people have been incarcerated for years beyond their first parole eligibility date, despite scoring high probability of parole on the Michigan Department of Corrections’ parole guidelines. Currently, there are about 1,900 people who have served their minimum sentences and been denied release despite having high probability scores. This is both extremely unfair and wastes millions of dollars every year.

By definition, people who score high probability of parole present a very low risk to public safety. Current law says the parole board may depart from the parole guidelines for “substantial and compelling reasons.” However, the reasons the board gives for denying paroles are often vague and subjective, such as “inadequate insight,” “lacks empathy,” or “insufficient remorse.”

In fact, parole data shows that the board often denies release based on the nature of the offense, with assaultive and sex offenses far more likely to result in denial. Since the nature of the offense was already a major factor in setting the minimum sentence, the parole board is effectively engaging in resentencing, substituting its judgment of how long someone should serve for that of the court. However, prisoners can no longer appeal parole denials and the current parole guidelines cannot be enforced.

All the state and national research shows that people who committed assaultive and sex offenses have extremely low reoffense rates. The research also shows that there is no relationship between how long people are incarcerated and their likelihood of reoffending. Thus, there is no gain to public safety from keeping people incarcerated once they are eligible for parole.

That’s why CAPPS has long advocated amending the statute to enact a presumption of parole after serving the minimum with only specific limited exceptions. Presumptive parolewould still require the parole board to make individual release decisions. The board would NOT be required to release any individual who presents a current risk to public safety.

Implementing presumptive parole would enhance objectivity, accountability, and transparency in the parole process for those eligible, while saving taxpayers millions now spent on excessive incarceration.

HB 4138 was the product of extended negotiations and compromise.

Last year legislation to enact presumptive parole was also recommended by the Council of State Governments and sponsored by Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland). While that legislation failed, this year House Criminal Justice Committee Chair Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Northville) reintroduced the concept in HB 4138. In May, Governor Snyder voiced his support for presumptive parole legislation in his Special Message on Criminal Justice.

Rep. Heise convened a legislative work group to hammer out a version of presumptive parole that the key stakeholders would accept. Barbara Levine, CAPPS associate director for policy and research, served on that workgroup with representatives from the Attorney General’s office, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, the Michigan Association of Counties and the Michigan Sheriffs Association. Data on bed space impact was provided by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Despite our best efforts, the presumption does not apply to current prisoners. (While current prisoners who score high probability on the parole guidelines must still be given substantial and compelling reasons for denying release, the reasons are not limited to those itemized in the bill.) The presumption also does not apply to parolable lifers and we were not able to restore parole appeals. However, HB 4138 will have a substantial impact on thousands of prisoners going forward. It represents real progress in the fight for parole reform.

No one in the negotiations got everything they wanted and the bill is likely to face stiff opposition. Most importantly, we must resist any attempt to limit the application of presumptive parole based on the type of offense.

 

See also news on felony firearm reform

 

2 comments

  1. Cindy Clark
    July 11, 2015

    When is the presumptive parole bill coming to the house floor for a vote?

    • CAPPS
      October 5, 2015

      It passed the house, 67-39 last thursday.

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