There are two classifications of lifers. One is non-parolable life where an individual will not be able to be released on parole. The only way a non-parolable lifer will be able to be released is through the granting of a commutation by the governor’s office The other classification of lifers is a parolable lifer. This person can be released after going through the parole process and being granted a parole by the parole board.
The parole board processes parolable and non-parolable lifers in the same manner through the public hearing process and the subsequent executive session. Following this executive session, the parole board will make a recommendation to the governor for those non-parolable lifers for whom they recommend release. For parolable lifers, the parole board will make a decision following this executive session.
A lifer may be interviewed by a parole board member after serving fifteen years of the life sentence. It is not required that lifers receive a Notice of Intent before their interviews; the interviews are frequently scheduled at the last minute.
If the parole board member who conducts the interview feels the individual is worthy of release consideration, the case will be presented to an executive session of the parole board. At that session, all members of the parole board will vote on whether to proceed with consideration.
If the majority of the board favors proceeding, a letter is sent to the sentencing judge (or successor) and to the prosecutor (or successor), indicating that the board is considering releasing the prisoner. If the judge objects, no further consideration is given. If the judge does not object, a public hearing is scheduled.
A parole board member will preside at the public hearing. At that hearing, a representative of the Attorney General's office will represent the public and question the prisoner. Any other interested persons may testify at the public hearing. The hearing is tape-recorded.
The tape recording is transcribed and all parole board members are given a copy. A second executive session of the parole board is held to make a final decision. If that decision is favorable, the prisoner will be released when parole plans are approved.
Those lifers not approved for executive session, public hearing, and/or release will be scheduled for another lifer interview in two or five years.
Five to seven months prior to the Early Release Date (ERD), the Resident Unit Manager (RUM) or Assistant Resident Unit Manager (ARUM) prepares a Parole Eligibility Report (PER). A COMPASS Test is also administered to help determine what the inmate’s needs will be upon release.
Prior to submitting the PER to Lansing, the RUM or ARUM should review the PER with the prisoner. Next, the parole guideline score is calculated. At that point, one parole board member reviews the prisoner's file and decides on release or continuance.
A prisoner may have a parole granted or denied without an interview if his/her parole guideline score is in the high probability or low probability range. The exception to this rule is that if a death was involved in the offense, then a hearing will still take place.
One month prior to an interview, the prisoner should receive the Notice of Intent and a copy of his or her individual Parole Guideline Scoresheet. Note that sometimes a prisoner may be given the option to have an interview with less than a month's notice. If s/he decides to participate in such an interview, s/he will need to sign a waiver of the time limit requirement.
The next step is the big day...the parole hearing interview. At this hearing, one parole board member is typically present via closed circuit television. There are several topics that are covered and issues raised during this hearing. It is tremendously important to be prepared for this hearing as much as possible because you only receive one chance at a hearing before a parole decision is made.
After the hearing, a second parole board member reviews the file and decides on release or continuance with the interviewer. If the first and second parole board members agree, that is the decision. If they do not agree, a third parole board member reviews the file and provides the tiebreaker vote on release or continuance.
If any of the three parole board members requests, the decision can be submitted to an Executive Session of the parole board. In this case, the vote of the majority of the ten parole board members will determine the decision.
In Michigan, the governor has the power to grant commutations to prisoners. A commutation is the process of taking a prison sentence and making it less severe. Typically, when granted a commutation, a prisoner’s sentence is reduced to the number of years that the prisoner has already served. They are immediately granted parole.
The process for a commutation is not quite as involved as the parole process. First, the prisoner must fill out and submit an application for pardon/commutation. Then, the parole board reviews this application and makes recommendations to the governor’s office. The parole board may deny the application or grant a public hearing on any particular application for commutation. If the parole board chooses to hold a public hearing then any interested parties, including the victim, may appear to give their opinion on the matter.
After the hearing, the parole board then makes a final recommendation to the governor’s office. The governor then decides whether the prisoner should be granted a commutation or pardon. If the prisoner is granted a pardon, then the prisoner’s sentence is essentially considered void and the prisoner is released without any parole or any further obligation to the Michigan Department of Corrections. If a prisoner is granted a commutation, then the prisoner’s sentence is reduced to the time already served and the prisoner is released on parole.
If you have had your parole interview and you are denied parole, your options are limited, but you do have the opportunity to pursue an appeal. The first step to taking an appeal is to take a look at the reasons given by the Parole Board for your denial. Next, you need to think about what you need to do before you have your next parole hearing.
You certainly want to make sure that you complete your GED and/or request placement in a vocational training program. You must next begin to consider reducing your parole guideline score. You should seek to improve your score and this can be done in a number of ways; 1) avoiding misconduct tickets, 2) improving your program and work performance; 3) if you have not completed all Reception and Guidance Center (R&GC) recommendations, work to complete them; 4) if you have a history of substance abuse and/or sex offenses and your parole plan does not include any follow-up programming, register for outside programming or have a plan of action before your next interview; 5) if your proposed home placement is not adequate, work to locate an alternate placement, or find alternate placement. This is not a complete list, but some of the most common areas of concern. As you can see, it is extremely important to focus on having a strong and sustainable Re-Entry Plan.
If your parole was denied, yet all R&GC recommendations are complete, your parole guideline score is in the high probability range, all program reports are positive, and your parole plan is reasonable, then you may appeal the decision in the courts or you may write a letter to the Director of the Department of Corrections Parole Board. This appeal will need to include certain components and documents, for which we can provide advice and assistance.
If the prosecutor’s office chooses to appeal a decision to grant parole, the appeal is filed by the prosecutor in the Circuit Court for the county for which you were convicted. The form of the appeal filed by the prosecutor’s office is called an application for leave to appeal. You are not required to respond to the application, but if you wish to respond to the application for leave to appeal, you may respond yourself or hire an attorney to respond for you. If an order of parole is issued pursuant to MCL 791.236 before the appellate proceedings are completed, a stay may be granted in the manner provided by MCR 7.105(G), except that no bond is required. This means that your parole release could be put on hold until the appeal is resolved. The prison facility is required to personally serve this notice, the application for leave to appeal, and any supporting documents on the inmate that is the subject of the appeal. If an inmate finds themselves in this situation, it is best to consult with an attorney to fully understand the court process and your rights.