Presumptive parole creates a healthier Michigan

Brett Roberts

It’s not uncommon for the Legislature to disagree over controversial bills in our chamber. In fact, it happens nearly every day that we vote on legislation. However, some important issues stand out from the rest.

We recently considered a measure that would implement a presumptive parole system in our prisons. In this system, prisoners with a low likelihood of returning to prison after being released would be reviewed before the parole board and released on parole after serving their minimum sentence. However, if evidence suggested that a prisoner was a danger to the public or would likely return to prison, their incarceration would continue.

Some politicians have made a career out of touting public safety and the need for keeping “harmful criminals” behind bars. While I do agree that offenders who have committed violent crimes should serve their prescribed sentences, the truth is that many Michigan prisoners, who no longer pose a threat to society, are being kept in prison through the ages of 80 or higher.

In the last 30 years, the Michigan prison population has exploded from 15,000 to 44,000. In the same span of time, Michigan’s state population has grown from 9.1 million to 9.9 million. This begs the question: While state population grew by 9 percent, how did the prison population triple? The answer is simple.

Michigan prisoners are kept behind bars for 17 months longer than the national average. This is no slight gap. This is a problem.

In addition to unnecessarily extensive sentences, keeping low-risk prisoners behind bars is breaking the bank. At that same time 30 years ago, our Corrections budget was $230 million. Now, taking up 20 percent of our General Fund expenditures, the Corrections budget has ballooned to $2 billion. This system would allow us to reduce the amount that we spend on prisons, and use it in other areas, such as education, infrastructure, and bolstering our local economies.

Money aside, presumptive parole would further strengthen the original intention of our corrections system: rehabilitation for our prisoners and a prosperous, safe society for all residents.

Public safety is at the forefront of all lawmakers’ minds when considering Michigan’s criminal justice system. This measure would ensure that parolees at low-risk of recidivism can once again be loved ones in our families and productive members of our society.

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Rep. Brett Roberts is a freshman lawmaker representing Michigan’s 65th House District, which serves residents from Lenawee, Jackson and Eaton counties. The measure to create a presumptive parole system has been introduced in House Bill 4138.

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