Schuette, lawmaker clash over sentencing overhaul

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing – — Attorney General Bill Schuette and a top Republican lawmaker are at odds over the impact of a sweeping proposal to overhaul prison sentencing, parole and probation that is among the most controversial measures pending in the Legislature’s lame duck session.

Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, said Monday the Republican attorney general is falsely portraying the impact of his proposals to rein in the number of years nonviolent felons sit in jail and support convicts as they emerge from incarceration.

Haveman said he’s dropping a controversial “presumptive parole” provision to mandate parole and release from prison once an inmate has served his or her minimum court-ordered sentence.

“That whole thing has been so watered down, it really has very little impact,” Haveman told The Detroit News. “It basically keeps the status quo.”

Last week, Schuette sent out a blistering letter on the eve of Thanksgiving saying the proposed changes will “prematurely release violent criminals back into our neighborhoods.”

Schuette said Monday such a significant changes to sentencing, parole and probation laws should not be made at the “midnight hour in a lame duck” session this month. Haveman is a term-limited representative.

“I’m not going to be part of a rush job at the midnight hour which dismantles public safety protections for the citizens of Michigan,” Schuette told The News.

Haveman said he hopes to have the bills on the House floor Thursday, two weeks before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Haveman said Schuette’s criticisms are “much ado about nothing.”

The four-bill package calls for more swift sanctions for repeat parole violators while reserving revocation of parole for more serious violations. One of the bills would lower the maximum probation period from five years to two years for some felons who are not deemed a “high risk” by law enforcement officers to reoffend and who don’t have past convictions for rape, stalking or domestic violence.

Inmates nine months from ending their maximum sentences would be released to an intensive supervision program transitioning them to life back in their communities. The legislation also calls for creation of a commission to study and rewrite sentencing guidelines.

Under changes being made to the bills, Haveman said the state parole board would retain discretion to decide whether to release inmates who have served their minimum sentences.

“What was really meant to be the smallest part of this package of bills has become the talking point and that’s unfortunate,” Haveman said.

Haveman said he wants to grant the parole board more authority to release felons who have served their minimum sentences and prevent a “future governor” from stacking the board with appointees who favor maximum sentences.

“If a governor comes along and says ‘We need to crack down and keep people close to their maximums,’ then this might have an impact on that,” Haveman said.

Schuette, who won re-election to a second four-year term last month, is considered a potential contender for governor in 2018 in Republican political circles.

“This is a lame duck effort,” said Schuette, a former state senator. “This is not a personal thing. I happen to like Joe.”

Haveman, who has led efforts to rein in Michigan’s $2 billion annual corrections budget, also took a shot at Schuette’s tough-on-crime mantra.

“Every reform is not light on crime or soft on crime,” Haveman said.

Haveman said the attorney general’s office was unaware of changes he’s making to the legislation before Schuette sent his letter to lawmakers and the media on Wednesday.

Schuette said his office has been “very active in negotiations” and would consider supporting changes.

“We are reviewing new language all the time,” he said.

Schuette’s letter to lawmakers included three cases in recent years of parolees committing violent crimes.

One was the September 2011 home invasion and murder of a 69-year-old Macomb Township woman by Joseph Thomas Reiner, 27, of Fraser. Reiner was out of prison on parole for a second-degree home invasion conviction.

“Those kind of horror stories … are going to happen whether this bill is passed or not,” Haveman said. “It’s not just a matter of keeping people long enough, it’s a matter of what do we do with them and what do they do for themselves while they’re serving time.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3660

Twitter.com/ChadLivengood