January 12, 2005
CHANGES REGARDING RELEASE OF CONVICTED INMATES
By: Christopher Reinhart, Senior Attorney
You asked for information on recent changes to the laws on the release of convicted inmates from prison.
The legislature made a number of changes to these provisions in 2004. Regarding parole, PA 04-234:
1. requires parole hearings once someone reaches certain specified points in his sentence,
2. changes parole eligibility for those convicted of certain crimes,
3. changes eligibility for administrative parole,
4. allows paroled inmates to move to alternate facilities within 18 months of their parole release date, and
5. allows compassionate parole release under certain circumstances;
PA 04-234 also:
1. authorizes the Department of Correction (DOC) to transfer an inmate on work or education release to an approved community or private residence if he already participated satisfactorily in a residential program and
2. increases the maximum length of DOC inmate furloughs (which are allowed for certain limited purposes).
PA 04-234 also made changes to help inmates prepare for their release and prevent their return to prison. It requires:
1. development of a comprehensive reentry strategy and a parole orientation program;
2. an incremental sanctions system for parole violations; and
3. plans to reduce by at least 20% the number of incarcerations due to technical violations of the conditions of probation or parole.
PA 04-234 also requires studies (a) by the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee (LPRIC) and the Office of Fiscal Analysis of the act's implementation and effects and (b) by LPRIC of the impact and costs of mandatory minimum sentences.
By law, someone is eligible for parole after serving 50% of his sentence unless he committed (1) a crime where the underlying facts and circumstances involved the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force, which makes him eligible only after serving 85% of the sentence or (2) certain serious crimes that are ineligible for parole.
PA 04-234 requires a hearing to determine the suitability for parole release of inmates (1) who are eligible for parole after serving 50% of their sentences but who have not been released to parole after they have served 75% of their sentences and (2) who are eligible for parole after serving 85% of their sentence, when they reach the 85% mark. A Board of Pardons and Paroles employee or a panel, if the chairman finds it necessary, must base the assessment on whether (1) there is a reasonable probability that the person will refrain from violating the law and (2) the benefits to the person and society resulting from release substantially outweigh the benefits to the person and society from his continued incarceration. The board must state for the record specific reasons why the person and the public would not benefit from the person's parole while transitioning to the community if it requires continued confinement. The board's decision is not appealable (PA 04-234, § 3).
PA 04-234 also allows people convicted of an offense committed with a firearm in, on, or within 1,500 feet of elementary or secondary school grounds to be eligible for parole. (People convicted of these crimes would be subject to the existing parole eligibility requirements and likely would be eligible after serving 85% of their sentences because use of a firearm would be considered use, attempted use, or threatened use of force.) The act makes someone convicted of 1st degree aggravated sexual assault ineligible for parole (PA 04-234, § 3).
Administrative Parole Eligibility
By law, under the administrative parole procedure, a Board of Pardons and Paroles employee reviews an inmate's case and a recommendation for parole must be approved by at least two board members. PA 04-234 changes eligibility for this procedure and makes any inmate subject to the 50% rule eligible and all other inmates ineligible.
The act also allows the board's chairman to require a parole hearing if he deems it necessary. The law already requires a hearing if a victim requests it (PA 04-234, § 4).
Transfer to Halfway Houses and Other Facilities
Under PA 04-234, the Board of Pardons and Paroles chairman can transfer inmates who are granted parole and are within 18 months of their parole release date to a public or private nonprofit halfway house, group home, mental health facility, or approved community or private residence. Someone released under this provision is transferred to the board's jurisdiction but he remains under DOC custody and DOC is responsible for supervising him. He may be returned to confinement in a correctional facility at any time (PA 04-234, § 9).
Compassionate Parole Release
PA 04-234 allows the board to grant an inmate, other than one convicted of a capital felony, a compassionate parole release if he:
1. is physically incapable of presenting a danger to society because he is physically or mentally debilitated; incapacitated or infirm because of advanced age; or has a non-terminal condition, disease, or syndrome and
2. has served at least half of his sentence or half of his remaining sentence after the board commuted his original sentence.
A person granted a release is subject to terms and conditions set by the board and is supervised by DOC (PA 04-234, § 28).
DOC WORK AND EDUCATION RELEASE
The work and education release law allows DOC to arrange for continued employment of an inmate who is self-employed or regularly employed. DOC can also attempt to secure suitable employment or attendance at an educational institution. DOC can transfer someone to a different correctional institution, public or private nonprofit halfway house, group home, or mental health facility as part of this program.
PA 04-234 also authorizes DOC to transfer an inmate on work or education release to an approved community or private residence if he already participated satisfactorily in a residential program (PA 04-234, § 30).
PA 04-234 increases, from 15 to 30 days, the length of time for which DOC can release an inmate on furlough to visit a dying relative, attend a relative's funeral, get otherwise unavailable medical services, contact prospective employers, or for other compelling reasons consistent with rehabilitation.
By law, DOC must have a reasonable belief that the inmate will honor the trust, must specifically designate the place to be visited, and prescribe conditions. DOC has discretion to renew a furlough. By law, failure to return from a furlough is 1st degree escape, a class C felony punishable by one to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both (PA 04-234, § 31).
PA 04-234 requires the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Judicial Branch, and the departments of Correction, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Social Services, and Labor to collaborate to develop and implement a comprehensive reentry strategy. The strategy must:
1. provide a continuum of custody, care, and control for offenders discharged from DOC custody;
2. assist in maintaining the prison population at or below authorized bed capacity;
3. support victims' rights;
4. protect the public; and
5. promote successful transition from incarceration to the community.
The act requires DOC to report annually on the success of the reentry strategy to the Appropriations, Judiciary, and Public Safety committees beginning January 1, 2005. It requires the strategy's success to be measured by the:
1. recidivism and community re-victimization rates;
2. number of inmates eligible for release on parole, transitional supervision, probation, or other release programs;
3. number of inmates who transition from incarceration to the community complying with a discharge plan;
4. prison bed capacity ratios;
5. adequacy of the network of community-based treatment, vocational, educational, supervision, and other services and programs; and
6. reinvestment of any savings from reducing the prison population into reentry and community-based services and programs (PA 04-234, § 29).
PAROLE ORIENTATION PROGRAM
PA 04-234 requires the board chairman and executive director, in consultation with DOC, to develop a parole orientation program for inmates eligible for parole when they are transferred to DOC custody. The program must include general legal information and policies on parole release, calculating time served, conditions of release, supervision practices, revocation and rescission policies, and procedures for administrative review and panel hearings. It must include any other relevant information to prepare inmates for parole (PA 04-234, § 1(j)(1)).
INCREMENTAL SANCTIONS FOR PAROLE VIOLATIONS
PA 04-234 requires the board chairman and executive director to create an incremental sanctions system for parole violations that includes re-incarceration based on the type, severity, and frequency of the violation and specific periods of incarceration for certain violations (PA 04-234, § 1(j)(2)).
PLANS TO REDUCE INCARCERATION FOR TECHNICAL VIOLATIONS OF CONDITIONS OF PROBATION AND PAROLE
PA 04-234 requires:
1. the Judicial Branch to develop a plan to reduce by at least 20% the number of incarcerations due to technical violations of the conditions of probation, and
2. the Board of Pardons and Paroles and DOC to develop a plan to reduce by at least 20% the number of incarcerations due to technical violations of the conditions of parole.
If funded, they must implement the plans and submit another report to the Appropriations and Judiciary committees by August 15, 2005 (PA 04-234, § 26).