Here’s how it works.
The Michigan Parole and Commutation Board must conduct a public hearing for many prisoners being considered for parole or commutation. These public hearings are held at several prisons around the state. Prior to the hearings, judges, prosecutors and victims of the alleged crime are all invited to express their opinions.
The public hearing is conducted by a member of the Parole Board, and other members may be present. In addition, a delegate from the Michigan Attorney General’s office is there to represent the victims and the people of the state. All are seated behind a long table.
The prisoner is there in person, and must appear on the other side of the table, sitting in a chair, wheelchair, or resting on a gurney.
Persons supporting or opposing the parole or commutation are invited to attend, and are given an opportunity to comment before the end of the session, which means there is an audience.
As the public hearing gets underway, the attorney from the AG’s office is invited to question the prisoner. That’s when the torture begins! He has all the files from a case that may be 30 years old, while the prisoner has nothing but his/her memory. He asks questions about the smallest details, he berates, he shouts. The prisoner is often frightened, often cannot remember that far back, but worst of all, has no advocate or legal representative. The prisoner is alone!
Following interrogation by the Attorney General’s rep (which can take hours), members of the Parole Board are invited to ask questions. Again, they have the files. The prisoner has nothing to prompt memory recall. And the prisoner has no advocate or legal representative.
Consider now that the prisoner may have been awakened very early in the morning to travel to the site of the hearing. Now hear this: after the public hearing begins, there is no break! The meeting can run from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. Time means nothing. Torture. Paroleboarding!
Humanity for Prisoners makes two suggestions to the new Michigan board:
-Allow the prisoner to have legal counsel, to respond to questions and statements by the AG’s representative, and to also have case documents on hand for reference.
-As in all legitimate courtrooms, call a recess if the meeting runs long, so that everyone---panelists, prisoner, and audience members---may get food and use the restrooms.
Certainly these requests cannot be considered unfair. To the contrary, a positive response would demonstrate that the state can be humane, even when dealing with prisoners.
If nothing changes, the torture will continue. We call it Paroleboarding.