Gov. Rick Snyder is taking politics out of parole system

Guest Editorial
Gov. Rick Snyder put his stamp on the state’s parole system this week, although it may take years before the public can judge fully what he is doing. If nothing else, we hope the new governor is taking politics out of Michigan’s prison policy.

Essentially, Snyder has disbanded the 15-person parole board. Going forward, the board will have 10 members, all of whom must apply (or re-apply) for their jobs. Right away, the governor maintains this will save state taxpayers $500,000 a year in salaries and administrative costs.

What could be more significant is that Snyder will not select the next 10 parole board members. That decision will rest with the state corrections department. As Snyder said in a statement, “We need to let the professionals in the corrections department determine whether it’s appropriate to release prisoners.”

He’ll get no argument here. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm expanded the parole board from 10 to 15 members, hitting the accelerator on the process of releasing prisoners. It worked: Michigan’s prison population was 51,500 in 2007; it’s fewer than 44,000 today.

There’s a compelling argument that Michigan locks away some inmates for too long, given that other Midwest states imprison people at lesser rates. Still, the stepped-up releases looked to be driven as much by cutting the budget as thoughtful policy. Many police and prosecutors said this made local communities more dangerous.

Snyder says a smaller parole board makes sense because there are fewer inmates who are eligi-
ble for release. Maybe, but we doubt that 10 is a magic number for the board’s size. What the governor really has done has hit the “reset” button, returning the board to where it was years ago.

Before Granholm made changes, her predecessor, John Engler, had put control of the parole board in the governor’s office. Snyder instead will put parole decisions in the hands of the “professionals” in the corrections department. Ideally, they will judge who deserves release based on one yardstick — whether the convict is a threat to the public.

Time will tell, but if the governor has ended up putting policy above politics, he will have done the right thing with Michigan’s parole system.