Dec 17, 2011

Michigan's Parole Process Explained

From time to time, my appellate clients write to me asking questions about the parole process.  Incarceration and parole affects all of us to the extent that it dampens our societal freedoms and add costs to those freedoms.

The purpose of this post is to explain Michigan's parole process to our readers.  While we recognize that most readers of this blog do not have friends or family behind bars, the process is nevertheless significant to all Michigan taxpayers. 

The Parole Board.
The Parole Board in Michigan was recently reduced in 2011 from 15 members to the current 10 members. The parole board members are appointed by the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). The Board is the sole paroling authority for felony offenders committed to the MDOC. Members serve 4, 3, and two year terms. Regular meetings are convened by the board to assess and decide parole applications.

The Parole Eligibility Report.
A felony offender must serve the minimum sentence with the MDOC prior to becoming eligible for parole. A Parole Eligibility Report (PER) is prepared on behalf of the applicant 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, taking "misconduct" tickets and the prior criminal record into account. The generation of this report is a critical step in the parole process.

If an applicant has not completed all of the requirements set forth in the judgment of sentence, or if his file is otherwise incomplete, this is noted in the report and parole will be denied.

The Parole Board's staffers use the PER to score a prisoner's parole guidelines. These statutorily-mandated parole guidelines form the backbone of the parole process.

The Parole Interview.
Upon submissions of a prisoner's PER, the prisoner is eligible to participate in an informal and non-adversarial interview with one or more Parole Board members assigned to the prisoner's parole panel. After this interview, a Case Summary Report is generated for the Parole Board's review.
This interview is an excellent opportunity for the prisoner to address members of the board, face-to-face, in order to make a positive impression on his candidacy for parole. The prisoner can address major misconduct tickets, and explain how and when he plans to complete any missing training requirements in order to enhance his eligibility for parole.

Of course, in a perfect world, the prisoner will have completed all required components set forth in his judgment of sentence. This is why good lawyering is so important at the trial phase of the accused's case. Corrections to the presentence investigation report must be made in the lower court as this is the “bible” relative to the prisoner as far as the MDOC is concerned. An inmate will be forced to live within the confines of any errors unless they are corrected on appeal within the timelines set out in the Michigan Court Rules.

Transition Accountability Plan.
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.

The Parole Board’s Broad Discretion.
In making decisions on parole, the Parole Board has very broad authority to decide the inmate's fate. Nevertheless, the legislature has imposed some restriction on the Board's parole decisions.
For example, the Board must follow the regulatory framework summarized in this post. Also, in no case will a prisoner be granted parole unless and until the Board is satisfied the prisoner will not become, "a menace to society or to the public safety."

In exercising its discretion, the Board takes into account a prisoner's remorse for having committed the offense for which he is incarcerated, his overall mental health, and his "social attitude". A healthy positive attitude is what it takes to achieve parole status; but that is a difficult attitude to acquire and portray from within the grim walls of a prison. The inmate seeking parole must toughen his resolve to acquire and maintain the proper attitude, shutting out all competing negative factors.

Returning to Society.
A prisoner's fate lies squarely within the hands of the Parole Board. At a minimum, the process described above must be followed to the "T". The most important factor beyond having all of one's required sentence components completed, including the payment of restitution, is the adoption and maintenance of a strong positive attitude.

Recidivism is a plague to our society and costs all of us dearly. The Parole Board's job is to identify likely re-offenders and keep them locked-up for the duration of their sentence. This is the cost to society for safety and the enjoyment of our freedom. If the parole process works, prisoners can attain parole, complete parole, and re-join the ranks of law abiding citizens.

The Michigan Court of Appeals published an opinion last month, People vs Haegler, explaining the nuts and bolts of the parole board in the context of the appellant-prisoner's CSC conviction and failed attempts at parole.

Some attorneys specialize in parole and probation consultations, assisting clients with the preparation and correction of their initial presentence reports, as well as with the parloe process.  Professional Parole Consulting is such an outfit located in Detroit, MI.


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