Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘michigan

Michigan Supreme Court: Incarceration Is Not a Sufficient Reason to Terminate Parental Rights

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Father's Day 2010 at the California Men's Colony (courtesy CDCR)

“Incarceration alone is not a sufficient reason for termination of parental rights,” the Michigan Supreme Court has held (PDF link), in overturning a lower court ruling that stripped a 29-year-old father’s parental rights while he was in prison. Free Press columnist Jeff Gerritt praises the decision:

The ruling by two liberal justices (Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh) and two conservative justices (Robert Young Jr. and Maura Corrigan) does more than uphold the rights of the incarcerated. It’s good news for anyone espousing so-called family values — or, for that matter, anyone who believes the courts and state bureaucracy should consider real-world problems when interpreting the law.

Like many family law cases, this one implicates a mixture of messy facts and strong moral judgments on all sides, so I am hesitant to repeat the facts posited by either the majority or dissenting opinion as gospel; you can click on the link above to read for yourself. For legal purposes, the key holding seems to be that lower courts can’t apply a presumption of parental unfitness based on a parent’s present incarceration; they must at least consider whether the parent might be fit to care for the children after his/her release. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

June 15, 2010 at 11:43 am

Is the Tide Finally Turning on Support for Mass Incarceration?

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For the past 30 years or so, “lock ’em up” rhetoric has been the norm at the state and local level of discussion about criminal justice policy. (And this type of rhetoric is still quite prevalent: Here’s a somewhat alarmist editorial from the Tampa Tribune that begins — I kid you not — “Let’s hear a round of applause for prisons.” Moreover, check out the comments section of any local news article on prison or jail issues, and you will see a steady stream of “lock ’em up” sentiment.) Of course, no one is in favor of crime, but the notion that there might be valid strategies for punishing wrongdoers and protecting public safety other than mass incarceration — strategies that might even be more effective, less expensive, and more just — has often been characterized as a fringe view or one that is insufficiently “tough on crime”.

But recently, I have started to wonder if the tide of unquestioning support for mass incarceration is finally turning. Suddenly local politicians and commentators around the country seem willing to state openly that states simply can’t afford the costs of locking up so many of their citizens. I am curious to hear whether readers perceive the same shift in rhetoric. Of course, perhaps I shouldn’t be too optimistic, since rhetoric is one thing, and actually implementing policy change is another. Moreover, I wish it had not taken an economic crisis to force Americans to reconsider the wisdom of mass incarceration (although it is better than nothing). I hope that we will also begin to see more mainstream discussion of the human costs of mass incarceration. Otherwise, the next time the economy is doing well, states may be tempted to return to the old policies.

In any event, here’s a roundup of local commentary along these lines, from the past couple of days alone:

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Written by sara

March 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

When Parole Boards Get Tougher, Does It Violate the Ex Post Facto Clause? Sixth Circuit Says No

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Here’s a hypothetical: You’re convicted of some offense — say, manslaughter — and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. At the time you’re convicted, the state has one set of procedures in place for determining whether to grant parole. Under that system, 5-15% of parole-eligible lifers are paroled each year, yielding an average time served of 15-18 years. So, when you’re convicted, you and everyone else involved in your conviction (the prosecutor, the sentencing judge, etc.) all think that you’ve got some chance of getting out, ten, 15, or 20 years from now.

As it turns out, in the intervening years the state passes several laws that alter its parole procedures and the composition of its parole board. Together, these changes have the effect of making it harder to get parole. By the time you’re eligible to appear before the parole board, it’s granting parole in only 0.15% of cases, and the average time served has creeped up to over 23 years.

This complicated scenario is more or less the fact pattern that the Sixth Circuit considered last week in Foster v. Booker, a class action lawsuit brought by Michigan lifers to challenge that state’s increasingly stringent parole procedures as a violation of the ex post facto clause of the Constitution. Relying largely on the statistical findings above (see PDF p. 9), the district court had granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, agreeing that they face an unconstitutional risk of increased punishment greater than what was expected when they were initially sentenced.

As explained further below the jump, the Sixth Circuit panel reversed the district court and instead granted summary judgment for the defendant Michigan officials — holding that Michigan’s reduced parole rates do not violate the ex post facto clause, but rather, may be a legitimate exercise of the Parole Board’s discretion. (The Sixth Circuit also upheld the district court’s dismissal of a challenge under the due process clause, because courts have held that prisoners do not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in parole.) Although the legal issues are a bit different, a pending lawsuit in Virginia, which I blogged about here, raises similar concerns about whether it’s become too difficult for supposedly parole-eligible inmates to win release.

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Written by sara

February 23, 2010 at 7:01 am

The Freep on Overcrowding in Wayne County Jails

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The Detroit Free Press has this article on how suburban Detroit jurisdictions prefer to send inmates serving misdemeanor sentences up to jails in northern Michigan — at higher cost — rather than to the Wayne County Jail, where they’re likely to be released early because of overcrowding:

In 2009, Westland spent nearly $600,000 to send hundreds of misdemeanor offenders to the Isabella County Jail in mid-Michigan.

It’s not only the money that has made Police Chief James Ridener angry. It’s the reason why he and other officials in Westland feel they have to send the prisoners north: If he sent the inmates to the Wayne County Jail, they’d end up back on the street in days, rather than the weeks or months the judge sentenced them to serve.

“As soon as a judge sentences somebody to 60 days, we would never ship them to Wayne County,” Ridener said. “Because there’s the good chance of an early release, and then we have to deal with them again.”

Wayne County is in a unique position in the state. Under a judicial consent decree signed in 1991, the director of jails has the authority to release inmates when faced with overcrowding, a virtual daily occurrence at the Wayne County Jail, said Jeriel Heard, the county’s jail director.

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Written by sara

February 15, 2010 at 11:10 am

The Great Michigan-Pennsylvania Prisoner Swap

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Proving that one state’s prison overcrowding crisis can be another state’s gain, (and/or that one state’s prison reform efforts can be another state’s convenient opportunity,) Michigan is emptying out its Muskegon Correctional Facility to make room for the 1,000 Pennsylvania prisoners scheduled to arrive shortly:

That’s enough [inmates] to keep the prison open and save up to 175 jobs that would have been eliminated by now. The 1,328-bed, medium-security prison was set for closing sometime in January as Michigan reduces its statewide prison population through earlier paroles and fewer prison returns for parole violators.

The deal isn’t for a set duration, but it’s expected to keep MCF operating at least through the end of 2013 and possibly longer, according to a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania prison system.

Under the deal, Pennsylvania will pay Michigan $62 per inmate per day to house its inmates, with the Michigan Department of Corrections running and staffing the prison. The deal is expected to net Michigan an average daily “profit” of $2.15 for each inmate at current operating costs.

Written by sara

February 1, 2010 at 10:47 am

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