From: Daniel Pirkel
To: American Prison Writing Archive
Re: Parole Reform 2.0
According to the Michigan Department of Correction's (MDOC) Policy Directive (PD) 06.05.104(Z), the MDOC prefers to return parolees to the county in which they were originally convicted unless they have a job or family member willing to house them in another community. In effect, parolees are sent to homeless shelters in areas where their former drug dealers and associates are located, despite the parolees's contentions that this is setting them up for failure. Many returning citizens are apprehensive about going back to their old stomping grounds because they fear that they will be pulled back into the gang life against their will, or they will be unable to handle the temptation of seeing their former drug dealers on a register basis. Many of these people have been living drug free for years, and believe that they can avoid the crack pipe as long as they can keep a job, and "friends" are not constantly waving it in their faces. The solution to this is rather simple: change the policy. Send parolees to communities other than the ones in which they committed their crimes unless they have a job, and/or someone who is willing to house them in their original community, the exact opposite philosophy as the MDOC currently follows.
Another example of Michigan's broken parole system revolves around the interstate Compact Parole Act. Prison administrators sometimes refuse to parole prisoners to another state, even when their family may have a job, a car, and housing waiting for the parolee. A case in point: James Seitz requested to be paroled to Indiana by filing an Interstate Compact Act application on 11-21-17. One of the parole agents (Bradley) informed James that he (Bradley) was not going to process anymore of these requests because they were too much work. This created a heated debate, in which the parole agent said that he was sending James to a homeless shelter while threatening to return James to prison within three weeks. What can James do if Bradiey carries out his threats or continues to refuse to allow James to transfer his parole to Indiana? If James' family has money, they may be able to sue, but it is likely that any evidence that supports these complaints will disappear. Furthermore, by the time the grievances and lawsuits are resolved, James will likely be off of parole, in which case the court would rule that the issue is moot (unless he is in fact re-incarcerated as his parole agent threatened).
This is not an isolated incident, as several prisoners have informed me that they were being forced to parole to homeless shelters in the communities in which they were originally convicted. Their complaint is not that they are being forced into paroling to homeless shelters. It is because the sheiter is in the same community in which they formerly lived a criminal lifestyle. The parole agents would do this despite the fact that the parolees complain that they do not want to live around people who are going to offer them drugs. If you had been addicted to heroin and just finished a prison sentence in part because of your addiction, would you want to go back to the area where your former drug dealers lived? In addition, some fear retaliation from a previous gang rivalry, while others do not want to be ostracized from the community for their previous crimes. Forcing people to live in these places not only increases the chances that the parolee will fail their parole for a technical violation, it makes it more likely that they will commit a new crime.
These are not the only policies that contribute to parole revocations. For example, until a few years, Michigan was well known for incarcerating parolees for minor infractions like failing a drug test for marijuana, associating with a felon, and failure to find housing or a job. While there may be some logic behind these policies, they can be carried out in a way that borders insanity. For example, a parole agent may refuse to allow a parolee to move in with their friend because he was on felony probation 20 years ago. I have also heard that some people have been re-incarcerated for the pettiest of "offenses," from fishing without a license, failure to report a "contact with the police" (he was the passenger in a car that was pulled over for speeding), and even walking to the shed to grab something while on house arrest. Parole agents are given a considerable amount of discretion, and they sometimes rigidly adhere to old rules, understanding that their decisions will rarely be overruled.
These policies combined with the above testimony about the MDOC"s failure to send parolees to communities where they can succeed demonstrates that MDOC policy and personnel are often indifferent, apathetic, and/or hostile to the welfare of formerly incarcerated people. This also shows a lack of concern for society in general, as it wastes the state's wealth and potentially creates more victim when parolees are placed in positions to fail. The power dynamic of parole naturally places people in a precarious position, allowing corrections personnel to revoke the parole for little to no reason. This means that holding parole officers accountable for their decisions is just as important as requiring parolees to live in a responsible manner. The problem is that internal investigations are not done by independent fact finders. When any type of discipline is under consideration, they usually ignore the most important sources of information: those who are most affected by the system, i.e. the prisoners and parolees. Just as leaders cannot lead effectively without input of their subordinates, neither can the MDOC run efficiently or effectively without the input from those who are most affected by it.
If you are working on an APWA-related project, please let us know how you plan to utilize the Archive. We hope to share information about your work with our readers and, whenever possible, with relevant APWA authors.
APWA is an open access archive. We encourage use of the writings for research, course planning, and projects engaged in examination of the criminal legal system. Reproduction of essays in their entirety infringes on author copyright without their explicit consent from the writers. Please contact us if you plan to reproduce entire essays; we will do our best to put you in contact with the authors for consent, and their compensation for any project that is profit making.