We now have added "Informational Posts" which are tidbits of information that may come in handy at some point.

Denying parole at first eligibility: How much public safety does it actually buy?

August 2009:

A study of prisoner release and recidivism in Michigan

Executive Summary

Widely-held assumptions about incarceration and parole are contradicted by Michigan data and national research.

Assumption: Since Michigan’s overall rate of sending convicted felons to prison is below thenational average, Michigan does not incarcerate enough people.

Fact: Michigan’s overall prison commitment rate is below the national average because the state imprisons fewer drug and other nonassaultive offenders. Its commitment rate for assaultive and sex offenders is very high and, because it keeps those offenders incarcerated for a long time, Michigan’s average length of stay in prison is much higher than the national average.

Assumption: Longer prison sentences keep the public safer.

Fact: Increased length of stay does not reduce recidivism and may actually increase it.

Assumption: Half of all released prisoners commit new crimes and return to prison.

Fact: The majority of former prisoners do not return within four years for any reason, even without the support services now provided through reentry programming. Of those released for the first time from 1986-99, whether paroled or discharged on the maximum, 63% did not return at all; fewer than 18% were returned with new sentences for new crimes.

Assumption: Assaultive and sex offenders present a high risk to public safety.

Fact: People who commit assaultive or sex offenses are much less likely to reoffend than those who commit financially-motivated crimes. Homicide and sex offenders rarely commit new crimes against persons. Characterizing these offenders as “high risk” confuses the harm from their past crimes with the likelihood they will commit new ones.

Assumption: Parole is a form of “early release” that was unintended and unanticipated by the sentencing court.

Fact: In Michigan, judges set the minimum sentence according to legislative guidelines that determine how much punishment is appropriate for the offense and the offender. The minimum is often agreed to by the prosecutor during plea negotiations. While the parole board can deny release until the prisoner has served the maximum sentence, it cannot grant release until the person has served the minimum. Parole at the first eligibility date indicates the board has found no reason, based on current information, to extend incarceration beyond what was imposed by the sentencing court.

Assumption: Decisions to deny parole are based on objective assessments of the risk of reoffending.

Fact: Parole has routinely been denied based on the nature of the offense to people who have served their judicially imposed minimum punishment and posed a low risk of reoffending.

Assumption: People who are repeatedly denied parole have terrible institutional records.

Fact: While poor behavior in prison reduces the likelihood of parole for everyone, assaultive and sex offenders are less able to earn release through good conduct. Many of them “max out” despite having no serious history of institutional misconduct.

Assumption: If parole decisions were made “correctly” and more prisoners were required to serve their maximum sentences, all crime by parolees would be prevented.

Fact: The total prevention of new crimes by parolees would require the ongoing incarceration of tens of thousands of people who would not, in fact, commit a new offense if released. The fiscal cost would be astronomical and, because most crimes are not committed by parolees, the impact on overall crime rates would be minimal.

Assumption: Denying parole for an extra year or two keeps the public substantially safer.

Fact: If, from 1986-99, everyone denied parole for up to two years had been released when first eligible, 2,300 fewer beds per year would have been needed but returns with new sentences would have increased only 1.7%.

Purpose of the Research

The Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending examined 76,721 cases of Michigan prisoners sentenced to indeterminate terms after 1981 and released for the first time from 1986 through 1999. The primary goal was to answer the following questions:

Does continuing to incarcerate people who have served their minimum sentences
actually improve public safety and, if so, to what extent and at what cost?

Specifically, does denying parole at the minimum only to release a person a year or two thereafter have a substantial impact on re-offense rates?

The analysis also shed light on a number of other important questions regarding the nature and cost-effectiveness of parole decision making. In particular, because offense groups were analyzed separately, the impact of the nature of the crime on both release decisions and actual recidivism could be identified.

For the remainder of this research: by Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS)

Reviewing this was eye opening and two charts which caught my attention, they follow:

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