Column: Presumptive parole isn’t safe for Michigan
Public safety is the first responsibility of government. Unfortunately, legislation now being debated by the Michigan legislature could put the public’s safety at risk. Last week, the House passed legislation that dramatically changes our criminal justice system, and now the Senate is considering this package of bills. We strongly oppose these bills, because they will allow the release of violent offenders back onto our streets.
House Bill 4138 seeks to expand what is called “presumptive parole,” which supporters say will allow well-behaved prisoners to be released on parole at their first parole eligibility date. But in reality, this is a catch-and-release, auto-pilot parole policy, and that is a bad idea. No review. No chance for a victim to speak about the horror this individual inflicted upon them. Just out the door at the first opportunity, in order for the state of Michigan to possibly save a few bucks.
The thought that law enforcement simply wants to lock every criminal up and throw away the key is simply inaccurate. Here are the facts: Ninety-percent of convicted felons are placed in diversion programs — probation, community service or a jail term of one year or less. The goal is to give these men and women another chance to be law-abiding members of society, but, at the same time, to create a safety net for both the criminal and the victim.
The truth is that 70 percebt of those in Michigan’s prisons are there for violent or assaultive crimes. Half of those 70 percent are murderers, rapist and armed robbers. In addition, 22 percent are incarcerated because they are habitual reoffenders with a significant number of felony convictions on their record.
This talk about kids being thrown in prison for smoking pot is sheer nonsense. Of all those housed in Michigan’s prisons, the few that are there for marijuana aren’t new to the corrections system.
As elected officials, we understand the need to review old laws and make changes from time to time. That is why we supported reforms to Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture laws, to make them more just for citizens who have not been convicted of a crime.
But we cannot build a better, stronger, safer Michigan if our public safety is threatened. We must continue to make safety a priority and that means that any changes to our justice system must continue to protect crime victims and communities. That is why those who are on the front lines of this fight for public safety — the cops, the sheriffs and the prosecutors — are opposed to this new proposal.
Let’s keep this in mind as well: Releasing more prisoners does not mean the state will save money. Michigan has closed more than 20 prisons and camps in the past decade, yet the budget for the Michigan Department of Corrections has not gone down. Moreover, there is a huge cost to crime, and our urban communities are paying a very high price when crime rates go up.
Supporters of this legislation have said that, of the hundreds of people paroled after serving time for murder or manslaughter between 2007 and 2010, only two returned to prison for a new homicide. Therefore, these changes to parole are an acceptable risk. We respectfully disagree.
This “presumptive parole” legislation is a risky scheme. It is a clear and present danger to the safety of Michigan families. For all these reasons, it needs to be defeated.
Bill Schuette is attorney general of Michigan. David Leyton is the Genesee County prosecutor.