Last November Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz drove to Ionia to testify in a Public Hearing staged by the Michigan Parole Board. Spring Lake industrialist Ronald Redick had been convicted of killing his business partner in 1991, and the Prosecutor let it be known that, in his opinion, parole was not a good idea.
Now comes an expert from Prison Policy Initiative who says Prosecutors shouldn’t even have a say in the parole process! PPI is a national organization, a think-tank that uses research, advocacy, and organizing which it claims show “how over-criminalization harms individuals, our communities, and the national well-being.”
Jorge Renaud is a Senior Policy Analyst at Prison Policy Initiative, and holds a Masters in Social Work. Prior to his schooling, he spent decades in prison. His report, released by PPI just days ago---Failure should not be an option: Grading the parole release systems of all 50 states.
Michigan received a grade of C-minus. Frankly, we think that’s generous!
Now back to this Prosecutor business, here’s what PPI contends: Prosecutors should not be permitted to weigh in on the parole process. Says their report: “Their (the Prosecutor’s) 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 Decisions based on someone’s transformation or current goals should not be contaminated by outdated information that was the basis for the underlying conviction or plea bargain.”
And it doesn’t stop there. The report goes on to state that the victim(s) of the crime shouldn’t have a say in the decision, either! “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. A truly restorative collaboration would ask survivors of crime for their help in crafting transformative, in-prison programming for individuals convicted of violent crimes, but would not allow their testimony to influence parole decisions.”
We can already hear the cries of protest from Prosecutors and the State Attorney General!
Yet, this conclusion makes a lot of sense:
The decision to release someone should be based on a number of factors — participation in educational and vocational programs, in-prison disciplinary history, and other verifiable metrics that indicate personal transformation. All too often, denials for subjective reasons like the “gravity of the offense” or whether the release will “lessen the seriousness of the offense” serve only to diminish the motivation necessary for change.
I’ll be surprised if we ever get such dramatic change in Michigan, but it is our hope that the new administration will take a look at overhauling the entire parole process.