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Guaranteed Parole Might be Coming to Michigan

On Oct. 1, the Michigan House of Representatives approved legislation that would give prisoners deemed a low-risk to society automatic eligibility for parole, once they have served their minimum sentence.

Currently, prisoners in Michigan are not entitled to parole.

House Bill 4138 would implement what is being called “presumptive parole.” It would make eligible for parole those prisoners who serve their minimum time and are then determined to not be a menace to society.

The legislation also provides various reasons why an eligible offender could still be kept in prison, including: 1) new DNA evidence linking the offender to an unsolved crime, 2) evidence of harm to a victim that was unavailable for consideration at the time of sentencing, and 3) the prisoner has threatened harm to another person if released. In addition, presumptive parole would not apply to a prisoner serving a life sentence who is eligible for parole.

Lawmakers who support the measure said that, not only will it cut Michigan’s prison population and save the state about $30 million each year, but it will also send a message to the parole board that it must have a substantive reason to deny parole to a prisoner who is a low-risk to society.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan oppose the bill and, in a letter, urged House members to reject it. The AG and PAAM said HB 4138 would put the state’s parole system on “auto pilot” and would create a presumption for dangerous felons.

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth Township, has disputed these assertions. He has said the bill will not give rapists and other dangerous offenders a parole presumption because their scores would disqualify them.

According to a House Fiscal Analysis, Michigan has one of the largest and most expensive prison systems in the country. About 20 percent of the state’s annual budget, or $1 out of every $5, is spent on corrections. The current budget for the Michigan Department of Corrections is around $1.9 billion.

Some lawmakers who oppose HB 4138 have questioned what the overall savings would really be relative to the potential societal and community costs of letting offenders out of prison.

Along with HB 4138, the House has also passed HB 4137. This bill would change felony probation requirements and amend the “swift and sure” probation program in courts across the state.

Both bills are now headed to the Michigan Senate.

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