We’ve complained a lot, over the years, about the performance and the role of Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel in Michigan Parole Board Public Hearings. We were rather surprised that Rothermel, who served under former State AG William Schuette, continued on under newly-elected Democrat Dana Nessel. We believe that if AG Nessel, whose philosophy and that of former AG Schuette are miles apart, chooses to keep Rothermel on the job, she could and should steer him in a different direction.
I bring up these issues after reviewing two independent surveys which grade Michigan’s parole system at C-minus.
Prison Policy Initiative says, for example, that Prosecutors should not be permitted to weigh in on the parole process. Their voices belong in the courtroom when the original offense is litigated. Decisions based on someone’s transformation or current goals should not be contaminated by outdated information that was the basis for the underlying conviction or plea bargain.
In a very recent Public Hearing, Rothermel twice mentioned that the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office strongly opposed parole for that inmate, based on the nature of the crime (which occurred in 1994!).
PPI also contends Survivors of violent crimes should not be allowed to be a part of the parole-decision process. The parole process should be about judging transformation, but survivors have little evidence as to whether an individual has changed, having not seen them for years.
The second agency to grade parole systems was Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). CURE clearly states what we’ve been saying for years: The “nature of the crime” or “seriousness of the offense” should NOT be the reason for parole denial.
At the conclusion of every Michigan Public Hearing, AAG Rothermel explains that he does not have a vote, but that he simply represents “the people of the State of Michigan.” He then goes on to recommend no parole for EVERY prisoner convicted of an assaultive crime.
History has shown that the Parole Board pays little attention to such recommendations, because many of those same inmates are granted a second chance. But, with new emphases, our new AG could make the participation and the contributions of her AAG far more effective and meaningful.
We applaud the dramatic changes we have seen in the office of Michigan Attorney General. It’s time for that kind of change in the Parole Board Public Hearing process as well.