There's a little band of people in Lansing with far too much power.
I realize that I'm starting to sound like a broken record (for those who remember a crack in vinyl discs that prompted a repeat until one lifted the needle), but why is no one paying attention to the Michigan Parole Board?
Thanks to former Governor Engler, these people are no longer civil service employees. They are appointed by the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections, who is appointed by the Governor. It's incestuous!
This board is not affected by the Open Meetings Act, so no one may know what happens in closed meetings. The Parole Board interviews with Michigan prisoners are not recorded, so a decision by the board regarding parole for a prisoner is based on the hearsay of just one board member. Inmates are not allowed to appeal Parole Board decisions. In fact, if the PB says it has “no interest” in considering parole at the regular review time, an inmate may not even ask why. If an inmate and his/her family wish to appeal a Parole Board decision, that simply is not allowed! Where is the transparency here?
This panel of 10 is expected to make 20,000 decisions affecting the lives of prisoners each year. And our contention is that this cannot possibly be done with care, concern and efficiency.
And the action or inaction of the Parole Board costs money. Tons of it! The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending points out that each Parole Board decision to incarcerate a lifer for another 5 years costs taxpayers roughly $200,000.00. In fact, if the board would parole just half of the eligible, aging, low-risk lifers sitting behind bars right now, it would save the state nearly $17 million a year!
There are 44 inmates in a Michigan prison unit in Coldwater who are over 80 years of age, many of whom cannot even dress themselves, and whose highlight of the week is Bingo. Yet the PB even refuses to release them because they might be a threat to society.
For service to the state, each member of the Parole Board is paid $90,000 a year. Except the chairman. He's paid more.
I'm trying to shout from the house tops that these un-elected officials have unlimited power over peoples' lives and the public purse!
Does anyone care?
Is anyone listening?