When it became apparent that false confessions were one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, Innocence Projects around the country began clamoring for improvements in the police interview process. They wanted all police interrogation, from the time of arrest, recorded...if not video, at least audio. And wise prosecutors around the country agreed. It actually strengthened good cases...but it also made cops very aware that they couldn't browbeat and bully and even torture suspects into confessing something that they really didn't do.
HFP is now making the same recommendation for the Parole Board interview. While it is true that some of the interviews seem to be improving, the history of the Michigan Parole Board interview is dismal. I have sat in on interviews that were shamefully conducted by Parole Board members who acted very much like bullies. Very recently we heard of a PB interviewer who bluntly informed a very nice young woman in her interview that she was a threat to society, and he actually penciled that in on her PB documents. We received a report from a sex offender who was being interviewed by one of the women on the board...she rudely suggested that instead of committing his alleged crime, he should have just gone and had sex with his dog. Only the language was much more crude. We know of an inmate who was being interviewed with his mother at his side. The PB member told her that if he had his way, her son would never see the light of day again.
This is just a sample...the horror stories are legion. I'm especially sensitive to this because HFP is often asked to help prisoners prepare for the interview, and sometimes we are there with them for the interview. It's the inmate's hope for a little light at the end of the tunnel...the possibility of freedom. They are nervous for the interview, and fragile. When their hopes are dashed by these unkind interviewers, these men and women are devastated. They are hurt more than you can possibly imagine, and they must then wait a year or two or five before they can appear before the board again.
HFP contends that these interviews should be recorded...if not on video, at least the audio portion. That way, if the prisoner or his family or his representative has a complaint about the interview it can be quickly investigated.
We made the suggestion to MDOC Director Dan Heyns, and he responded simply that there would be too many problems. He did not elaborate, but we think those problems would be far less than the number of examples of shameful interview techniques by Parole Board members. They must be held accountable...they are our employees.
It's time for improvements in this process that would show a more humane treatment of Michigan prisoners.