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Progress Toward Parole Reform in Michigan

Last week the Michigan House made a big step toward reforming Michigan’s parole system, passing House Bill 5377 by a vote of 97-10. The bill would make the parole process for low-risk prisoners more consistent and transparent. It would establish objective criteria for when the parole board can deny parole to a prisoner whom the parole guideline categories score as low risk.

The parole board has the ultimate discretionary power and is not bound by the guideline categories. Historically, the parole board has not had guidance on how to use its discretion in these cases and it has been inconsistent in its treatment of similar cases and has been prone to decision making not based in evidence. To correct this, House Bill 5377 lists out detailed objective reasons to deny parole to a low-risk prisoner, such as a pattern of misconduct while in prison or a threat to harm someone upon release.

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Another aspect of the bill that will also have a large impact on the current parole process is that HB 5377 requires that prisoners up for parole who score low or medium risk on the guidelines be reviewed annually rather than every two years.

Unfortunately, the bill is not retroactive, so it will only apply to future prison admissions, and its effects will not be seen for a couple years. However, within five years it is estimated that the policy could cut up to 2,400 prison beds (roughly the equivalent of two prisons), and save the state $40 million per year.

After passing the House, the bill was sent to the Michigan Senate and was referred to the Judiciary committee, where it awaits a hearing.

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