LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - Gov. Rick Snyder has tightened up the criteria for releasing state prisoners early and likely won't commute as many prison sentences as his predecessor, a spokeswoman told Target 8.
"It's probably safe to say there are going to be far less," spokeswoman Sara Wurfel told Target 8.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, commuted the sentences of 182 prisoners -- more than her three predecessors combined.
"It's a case-by-case situation," Snyder, a Republican, told Target 8 on Wednesday. "And it really has to be something compelling."
Snyder in March commuted his first and only prison sentence so far -- for an Oakland County man convicted of attempted murder.
"The one instance we had, we had somebody who was basically dying of cancer," Snyder said. "And it was just the humane thing to do. There were no threats to public safety."
Snyder has been asked to commute the life sentence of former Grand Rapids Police Officer Clarence Ratliff, who shot and killed his wife, Judge Carol Irons, in her chambers in 1988. Ratliff has cancer and wants to die at home, a free man. The parole board has yet to schedule a public hearing.
Snyder already has reversed steps Granholm had taken to release prisoners sooner and cut costs. She had expanded the parole board to 15 members and created a Clemency Council. Snyder already has returned the parole board to 10 members and eliminated the council.
Governors have struggled for years with whether to commute sentences. The process works this way: prisoners petition for early release, which is then considered by the parole board, which notifies prosecutors, judges and victims who have registered to follow the cases. The parole board holds public hearings and makes recommendations, leaving the governor to make final decisions.
Since 1969, Michigan's five governors have released 316 prisoners early, including 147 serving life without parole for first-degree murder, according to a Target 8 analysis of prison records. About a quarter of the prisoners were released for medical reasons.
More than 40 of the prisoners were from West Michigan, including a half-dozen serving life for first-degree murder.
"That's a lot of power and a lot of responsibility, and I felt it strongly," former Gov. William Milliken, a Republican, told Target 8. He commuted the sentences of 95 prisoners -- all convicted killers -- between 1969 and 1982.
Former Gov. James Blanchard, a Democrat, released just six, including five killers just days before he left office. "I never was viewed as hard-hearted by anybody," he said. "If anything, people thought I was a pretty soft touch."
But, he said, he feared commuted criminals would return to crime.
"You do have that fear that you let someone out and they get out and they go kill somebody," Blanchard said. "Yeah. You have to live with that."
Records obtained by Target 8 show a dozen prisoners released early since 1969 got into trouble again -- including two for murder.
The worst was John McRae, who was 16 in 1951 when he slashed an 8-year-old boy to death with a straight razor in Macomb County, burying him under a sidewalk. Milliken commuted his sentence 20 years later. In 1987, 16 years later, McRae killed again, mutilating a 15-year-old boy and burying his body under a concrete slab in Harrison. Police suspected he also killed three boys in Florida. McRae recently died in prison.
"It simply means errors can be made, and I grant that was a mistake," Milliken said. "But, one cannot foretell the future in every case."
Still, Milliken said he wishes he had released more prisoners -- undoing, in some cases, what he called "grave injustices."
"I've come to regret that I did not issue more commutations than I did," he said. "I think there is room for compassion."
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