WHO IS NONVIOLENT?
By George Norris Hall
Whatever l have done, it was done over 40 years ago at a minimum, and in some cases 59 or 59 years ago, under circumstances that even i don't remember clearly today, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the person i am today.
How do we define "violent"? is it a person who has never, ever, committed a violent act, no matter how far removed in time?
Across the board, statistics prove in every State and Federal jurisdiction, paroled first- degree lifers are the single best parole risk. And Michigan has a long history of commuting and paroling first-degree lifers who became productive members of society.
In the eleven years from 1938 to 1948, Michigan governors commuted 32 first-degree lifers. The time served for those men ranged from 3 to 31 years.
From 1949 to 1960, Governor Williams commuted the sentences of 145 first-degree lifers. The time served for those men ranged from 3 to 31 years.
From 1961 to 1962, Governor Swainscn commuted the sentences of 76 first-degree lifers. The time those men had served ranged from 11 to 41 years.
From 1963 to 1968, Governor Romney commuted 107 first-degree lifers. Their time served ranged from 13 to 47 years.
From 1969 through 1982, Governor Millikan commuted the sentences of 94 first- degree lifers. The time those men had served ranged from 12 to 51 years, except for one medical mercy commutation who had served 9 years.
And then things began to drastically slow down with Governor Blanchard who pardoned only 1 man from 1983 to 1990, until his last term was running out, and he pardoned 5, on his way out the door. Times were changing and "life means life" had begun to be popularized.
The screeching halt came with Governor Engler, who, holding true to his statement that he would stack prisoners up like cord wood if he could, up to 1990 commuted just one sentence, a felony-murder conviction who wasn't the shooter. I believe that was Rahman, who was already on his way out by door by popular consensus.
I don't have the success statistics on these men, but when Gail Light was the
Department's spokesperson, she distributed that information, and the return rate of commuted and paroled first-degree murders was almost nil. it is not commuted and paroled first-degree murders who are a danger to society and who commit the crimes the newspapers use to damn them. With rare exceptions, most of them are too old and too decrepit to be dangerous. They are burnt out and very, very tired. it is the youngsters, harboring a burning anger, like the Patrick Selepaks [(sp?) a young parole violator who was released after having been violated for committing violent acts, and committed multiple murders] who are so dangerous. But even though almost everyone realizes this, still it is the possibility of commuting and pardoning a first-degree lifer that engenders so much negative publicity as emphasized by former Sen. Alan Cropsey, R-Dewitt, (during the tenure of
Gov. Granholm) who in an article entitled "Gov. to free inmates to cut prison costs," prefaced his comments to the reporter with the remark ''I'd be very interested to know which old folks we're talking about letting out of prison, if we're talking about people who committed first-degree murder." in point of fact, if our present governor wants to look at groups from which she can safely release older medically infirm prisoners, first-degree lifers should not be excluded. A prisoner's potential for future violence is not accurately measured by behavior that occurred three, four, five or more decades in the past. Parole statistics for paroled first-degree lifers prove that fact. No one is the same person he or she was decades in the past, not even murderers. The prisoner's behavior while incarcerated is the measure by which it should be determined whether he or she should be considered for release, not the behavior for which the prisoner is incarcerated.
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