GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — About 200 prisoners per week are leaving lockup as the Michigan Department of Corrections tries to walk the fine line between public and prisoner safety.
Nine MDOC inmates have died of COVID-19 and 429 cases have been confirmed within the state prison system. The early paroles are meant to decrease prison populations and help control the spread of the virus.
But the Kent County prosecutor and victim advocates like the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence are concerned that the releases could do more harm than good.
“There is a lot of pressure right now to just (say), ‘Hey, we are in such a crisis. Just let these people go.’ And I really try to resist that,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told News 8.
A MDOC spokesman said the agency will not release people just because they “might potentially contract a virus.”
“We are doing everything with public safety in mind,” MDOC spokesperson Chris Gautz said.
About 5,000 of the state’s 38,000 prisoners are eligible for parole. MDOC is looking to first release at nonviolent offenders who are older than 60 with health issues, though no offenses are off-limits. The number of inmates paroled has increased by about 1,000 per month.
MDOC is asking prosecutors to sign waivers allowing immediate release. Becker said they are coming in every day.
“I’ve got six (waivers) that I just got this morning and I’ve probably reviewed another four or five yesterday,” he said.
The waivers remove the 28-day waiting period that gives prosecutors and victims the right to appeal the decision.
“If there is a registered victim, the process will play out as it normally does,” Gautz said.
But registering is left up to the victim, and in old cases where the victim registered a landline but then switched to a cellphone, that person won’t be contacted.
Becker said he is deciding whether sign waivers on a case-by-case basis.
“We had you know, a guy who was on probation for domestic violence, picked up a domestic violence third. That’s one where we are like, no. I’m sorry, we are not going to agree to let him out even though there is COVID,” Becker said.
If prosecutors decline to sign the waiver, that doesn’t keep the inmate locked up. It only pushes back their release date. For example, a man locked up for child porn in Kent County was sentenced to 10 months. Instead, he was released by a judge after serving 60 days.
Some people say that criminals shouldn’t get “special treatment” during this outbreak.
“I would say that they are not getting special treatment, but I would also say that they are human beings,” Gautz rebutted. “We don’t just see them as prisoner. They are human beings and it’s under our charge to care for them.”
If you would like to appeal a parole, contact MDOC.