The Public Hearing is a big deal for those Michigan prisoners fortunate enough to get one. It often leads to freedom.
The Public Hearing, as we have explained many times in the past, is conducted by the Michigan Parole Board. Its purpose is to determine if a prisoner is fit and ready to reenter society. It is held on the campus of a Michigan prison and chaired by a member of the Parole Board. Another participant is an Assistant Attorney General, who does the lion’s share of the questioning. For more than a decade, AAG Scott Rothermel has participated in hundreds of such hearings.
I’m not going to focus on differences of opinion with him. Today I want to focus on his recommendation to the Parole Board.
At the conclusion of each session, Mr. Rothermel explains to the inmate that the final decision regarding the outcome is completely up to the Parole Board. He does not have a vote, he says, and can only make a recommendation. Then he goes on to recommend against the prisoner’s release. Every time!
He once explained that if the crime was of a serious nature, especially if it involved injury or death, the recommendation is no parole. Automatic. Rehabilitation, renewal, rediscovery, rejuvenation, and yes, conversion, may seem important when considering a prisoner’s reentry to society. But not to the Attorney General’s Office. The decision is made in advance.
I honestly expected a different recommendation this week, because a Public Hearing was conducted for my friend Jimmy. Two years after he was locked up, James decided he was going to make a difference. For the next 30 years he worked with state and federal officials to help solve crime. Up to 8 cases. Numerous arrests, all the way to the federal level. A two-year investigation into an MDOC fraud case saved the state millions of dollars.
Despite all of this, despite the fact that Jimmy had letters of support from important state and federal agencies with whom he had worked, despite the fact that he had actually assisted the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, and despite the fact that the Assistant Prosecutor who put Jimmy away submitted a letter supporting his release…despite all of this, a recommendation against commutation! Can you believe it?
True, the PB often ignores Mr. Rothermel’s recommendation and approves the release of inmates who have satisfactorily contended that they can and will be productive citizens.
Which then begs the question: Where’s the integrity in a line of questioning that ends with a recommendation already cut and dried? That recommendation means nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Why does the AG’s office persist with this policy? Perhaps it has appeal to the Attorney General’s “law and order” support group. One thing is certain: If, perchance, that prisoner screws up, the AG can always say, “See, I told you.”
Improvements in this procedure are long overdue. The State of Michigan can do better.