Snyder calls for 'presumptive parole' for some inmates

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Detroit — Gov. Rick Snyder called for broad reforms in sentencing policies and improved criminal rehabilitation programs Monday in a major address aimed at better controlling the more than $2 billion a year the state spends on criminal justice.

“This is about smart justice ... not harsh justice or weak justice,” Gov Rick Snyder said in a speech in Detroit at Goodwill Industries.

Snyder urged the adoption of "presumptive parole" of prisoners who have served their minimum sentences and have a high probability of not committing new crimes, based on a scoring system used by Department of Corrections officials and the state parole board, according to an outline of the speech released by his office.

The idea drew opposition last year from Attorney General Bill Schuette, a fellow Republican, and county sheriffs who feared they would bear the costs of this approach. Schuette had "grave concerns" because the move would reduce the time served by convicted criminals under court supervision and increase "the threat to public safety."

Snyder urged the adoption of "presumptive parole" of prisoners who have served their minimum sentences and have a high probability of not committing new crimes

The governor's wide-ranging talk promises to touch on vision from crime victims' rights to juvenile justice reforms to law enforcement diversity.

Among the ideas Snyder plans to address, according to his office:

¦ Reforming how probation violations are handled. He would place a 30-day cap on imprisonment or detainment for the most common probation violations, saving an estimated millions of dollars.

¦ Expanding the Holmes Youth Training Act — currently dedicated to those 17-20 years old — so more young adults can receive alternative sentencing, treatment and training until their 24th birthday. He also wants a law that would revoke the alternative sentencing if an offender commits a new serious crime.

¦ Creating a cyber crime court

¦ Having the Department of Corrections help track restitution to crime victims instead of relying on local courts.

¦ Getting recommendations from a governor's working group on body cameras for police.

¦ Urging county jails to follow the lead of Kent County and make reforms so they don't put in jail many people accused of crimes or misdemeanors who have little risk of flight.

¦Reviewing and consolidating Michigan's 3,000-plus crimes on the books.

The governor chose Goodwill Industries offices on Grand River in Detroit as the site of his speech because the nonprofit offers education and work experience to prepare first- and second-time offenders to re-enter the community.

Directed by Keith Bennett, it's part of a national program of the organization called Flip the Script that focuses on rehabilitating offenders.

He was joined by Corrections Director Dan Heyns and Egeler Reception Center Warden Heidi Washington, who'll replace Heyns on July 1. Heyns then will assume a yet-to-be defined role overseeing corrections reforms in the governor's office.

Detroit's Goodwill plant is a tier one, or direct, supplier of workers who assemble and package parts for auto equipment makers.

Lawmakers are trying to revive failed 2014 legislation calling for reforms of 1998 sentencing guidelines and parole policies. The changes were recommended last May by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which noted 1 in 5 state dollars is spent on corrections.

The legislation would have set up a state commission to study the appropriateness of sentences handed out under toughened policies that led to a prison system build-up in the 1990s. The 1998 guidelines are based on recommendations of the state's last sentencing commission.

The State Corrections Department oversees 43,000 inmates in 31 prisons and related facilities, plus more than 61,000 probationers and parolees on an annual budget exceeding $2 billion.

It's under pressure from lawmakers to spend less through privatization of prison services. But the experts who've studied Michigan's corrections system say reforms are the best option for controlling costs and dispensing justice more effectively.

Snyder, Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young and legislative leaders from both parties — who contracted for the inquiry — wanted to use a "justice reinvestment approach to study the state's sentencing system, which would include an exhaustive data-driven analysis" of courts, jail, probation, prison and parole, according to the Justice Center report.