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Some Michigan inmates may get earlier chance at parole, part I

Under Michigan’s so-called “truth in sentencing” law, prison inmates cannot make themselves eligible for parole sooner through good behavior. This law was enacted in 1998, meaning that some people convicted and imprisoned before that time are still able to accumulate disciplinary credits to move up their “net minimum date,” or the date they are first eligible for parole.

A recent ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals may make it easier for a handful of inmates to get a shot at getting parole. The Lansing State Journal reports that the court ruled that, when it comes to those termed “habitual offenders,” parole boards should not wait for the sentencing judge to weigh in before considering parole.

State law says that a habitual offender is ineligible for parole until he or she has served the minimum sentence for his or her convictions. An exception exists where the sentencing judge or a successor gives written approval for parole to be considered. But another part of the criminal code states that the parole board has jurisdiction over a prisoner once he or she has served the minimum, minus any good behavior credits.

Therein lay an apparent contradiction in the system for a man serving 20 to 30 years in prison for armed robbery and conspiracy. His conviction predated the truth in sentencing law, and with disciplinary credits he could have been released on parole as soon as Oct. 2, 2013. Without credits, his minimum release date is not until July 2017.

The parole board refused to hear the man’s case, saying the successor to the sentencing judge’s seat needed to sign off first. But prisoners are told by the Michigan Department of Corrections not to contact their sentencing judge before their regular release date.

Next week, we will discuss the Court of Appeals ruling in more detail, and its implications.

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