Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending (CAPPS)

House Approves Two Parole Reform Bills by Huge Margins Senate Considering 18-Bill Reform Package

Criminal justice reform has exploded onto the legislative agenda. Both the House and Senate are advancing bill packages that could affect the size of the prison and jail populations, as well as a range of other criminal justice policies.

The dozens of bills include House-passed parole reforms (presumptive parole, medical paroles and the judicial veto bills) and a package of juvenile justice reform bills that provide more protections to incarcerated young offenders and increase the age of criminal responsibility to 18. Most notably, all the reform bills passed the House by overwhelming bipartisan margins.

The juvenile justice package passed in April. Below is a summary of key House and Senate actions in May:


On May 4, the House of Representatives passed a package of bills that allow the Parole Board to parole low-risk, medically frail prisoners to medical care facilities. The bills address long-standing concerns about the rising cost of housing aging, fragile, mentally and physically incapacitated prisoners in Michigan Department of Corrections facilities.

HB 5078, sponsored by Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), established eligibility criteria and procedures for medical paroles. It passed 95-13. HB 5079 provides technical amendments to a related statute and HB 5081 makes it a misdemeanor to help a medical parolee abscond. Both of these bills also passed with broad majorities.

Barbara Levine, CAPPS associate director of policy and research, contributed to shaping the final language.

An estimated 120 prisoners a year could be eligible for medical paroles, at a savings the House Fiscal Agency estimates at $2.4 million annually.

Issues related to Medicaid eligibility for these parolees still need to be resolved. Other states are also attempting to resolve issues with Medicaid eligibility.

Many of those who supported the bills hope that housing prisoners in care facilities will improve the quality of life for parolees and make it easier for families and friends to visit and obtain up-to-date medical information. Once the bills are enacted, advocates will be monitoring the implementation and actual impact on prisoners and their families.


HB 5273, sponsored by Rep. David Pagel (R-Oronoko Twp.), eliminates the authority of successor sentencing judges to veto grants of parole to lifers. On May 12, the full House approved the bill on a 96-12 vote.

The bill will still allow the sentencing judge to veto parole as long as he or she is still sitting in the court where the prisoner was convicted. The successor judge would still be notified and able to express an opinion but that opinion would no longer be controlling.  

The Michigan Judges Association, which recognizes that the veto authority actually burdens successor judges with a responsibility they are not well-positioned to exercise, supported the bill.

Levine and other supporters, including former corrections officials, testified in support of the bill. Carol Howes, former MDOC warden, testified that she knew many parolable lifers who were excellent candidates for parole, but whose release was arbitrarily stopped by a successor judge’s veto.

Howes said that "Most successor judges had no direct knowledge of the case and none ever contacted me to inquire about the prisoner's progress."

Both the medical parole and judicial veto bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge).


On May 3, an 18-bill package of criminal justice reforms were introduced; most bills were introduced by Senator John Proos (R-Saint Joseph). The bills were referred to the Senate Committee on Michigan Competitiveness, chaired by Senator Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson).

Levine provided legislators with an analysis of the package, including recommendations for amendments (see below or at Levine and Noah Smith, CAPPS’s government relations consultant, are continuing to meet with bill sponsors and will be at the table throughout the process.

One of Senator Proos’s key concerns is the rate that people under supervision end up in prison. CAPPS is currently conducting research on parole technical violators and will be releasing findings later this year.


On May 18, Levine provided testimony on the first round of bills to be heard by the Michigan Competitiveness Committee, SB 933, 934, 935, 948 and 949. Here are some of the key points:

SB 933:  The bill places a 30-day cap on sanctioning technical probation violators by temporarily placing them in jail.  This only applies to violators who are not having their probation revoked. We have no idea how much jail time these violators are currently serving so we don’t know what the impact on jail beds will be.

Limiting the length of temporary incarceration in jail is a fine goal, but the bill says nothing about reducing the number of technical probation violators whose probation is revoked. In fact, it expressly says that judges would retain complete discretion to revoke probation.  So the number of revocations would presumably not change and the bill would have no effect on reducing the number of technical probation violators sent to prison. 

More than 1,000 technical probation violators are resentenced to prison every year.  The Council of State Governments (CSG) had a detailed proposal that would have limited sanctions for technical violators depending on the nature and frequency of the person’s supervision failures.  It estimated that permitting revocation of probation and commitment to prison only for the most serious or persistent technical violators could save 990 beds by Year 5.  While stakeholders could not agree on the specifics of the CSG proposal, finding a way to reduce these commitments remains very important. 

We hope that in addition to enacting SB 933, the legislature will consider establishing a workgroup that might at least develop voluntary probation revocation guidelines.  Perhaps that first step toward building consensus would help get us where we need to go.

SB 934:  Current subsection (2) of 771.2, the statute being amended, already allows a court to amend an order of probation at any time.  So we’re not clear on the reason for giving the court permission to reduce the probation term after the defendant has served 50 percent of it.  But requiring the MDOC to systematically give judges notice when defendants are half-way through their term is certainly a good idea.  A routine review at that point might encourage judges to shorten probation periods for people who have done well. The elimination of unnecessary supervision saves resources all the way around.

SB 935:  We strongly support putting more resources toward practices that help people under supervision succeed and thus avoid probation and parole revocations. We don’t quite understand the concept of agreements between the MDOC and its FOA regions to create incentives for implementing these practices.  We also wonder about conditioning the award of funds on achieving the very ambitious goal of a 10 percent reduction in revocations in one year.  

If the goal is to promote creativity and flexibility at the local level and more focus on the diversity of needs among regions, perhaps a portion of increased funding for revocation reduction programs could be distributed to regions on an application basis.  Probation and parole agents could assess the challenges most commonly faced by the people they supervise and propose solutions they believe might be successful.  Encouraging experienced staff to help develop innovative programs would seem to be a worthwhile investment.  And it would allow new ideas to be evaluated and shared. We all want programs and services to be evidence-based, but we don’t want to be in a box where nothing new is tried because it hasn’t already been tested and proven.

So giving incentives to FOA regions to implement thoughtful practices tailored to local needs is a fine idea. But CAPPS recommends that the resources be made available upfront, not conditioned on a reduction in revocations having already been proven.  And the practices for which funds can be used, though obviously subject to FOA assessment for reasonableness, probably should not be limited to those spelled out by statute.

The Committee will hear testimony on the remainder of the bills in the package next week.  A chart of CAPPS’ analysis / comments / recommendations of the bills is available on our website at:’-legislation-analysis.pdf

by Laura Sager, Executive Director
Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending