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Parole Board Information
IntroductionCreated by statute, the Michigan Parole Board is the sole paroling authority for felony offenders committed to the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections. The Board also acts in an advisory capacity to the Governor for all executive clemency matters.
On April 15, 2011, Executive Order 2011-3, established the Board membership to ten full-time, non-Civil Service employees who are to be appointed by the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Their diverse backgrounds include law enforcement, law, corrections, ministry, social work and public service.
Parole Board Members
The current members are:
Brian Shipman, Chairperson
Anthony E. King
Adrianne Van Langevelde
For indeterminate sentences the minimum sentence is set by the judge and the maximum sentence is set by statute. The Parole Board gains jurisdiction of a case when a prisoner has served the minimum sentence, less any good time or disciplinary credits the prisoner may have earned. Truth-In-Sentencing (TIS) legislation, which went into full effect in December of 2000, does not affect prisoners sentenced for crimes which took place before the TIS laws went into effect. Therefore, a substantial percentage of current prisoners are still entitled to either good time or disciplinary credits, depending on the date of the offense.
Prisoners serving life sentences ("lifers") are interviewed by the Board after they have served 10 years on their Life sentence. After that initial interview, the Board is required to review each lifer case at five-year intervals. Prisoners serving for first-degree murder may be released from prison only if they receive a pardon or a commutation from the Governor. The Parole Board has the discretionary authority to parole other lifers once they have served 10 or 15 years on their Life sentence (depending on the date of the offense) if the sentencing judge does not object.
The Parole Consideration Process
The Michigan Parole Board is the sole paroling authority for prisoners sentenced to the jurisdiction of the Michigan Department of Corrections. Prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence are subject to the jurisdiction of the Parole Board after serving the minimum sentence imposed by the court less good time and disciplinary credits, if applicable. Prisoners whose crimes were committed since enactment of truth-in-sentencing legislation are not eligible for good time or disciplinary credits. This applies to specified assaultive crimes committed on or after December 15, 1998, and all other crimes committed on or after December 15, 2000.
By statute (MCL 791.233), even after serving the minimum sentence, a prisoner may not be granted parole until the Parole Board has reasonable assurance, after consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or a risk to the public safety. The factors considered by the Parole Board in making parole decisions include the nature of the current offense, the prisoner's criminal history, prison behavior, program performance, age, parole guidelines score, risk as determined by various validated assessment instruments and information obtained during the prisoner's interview, if one is conducted. The Parole Board also considers information from crime victims and other relevant sources.
Most parole decisions are made by three-member panels of the Parole Board. Decisions for prisoners serving a life sentence are made by majority vote of all ten members of the Parole Board.
The Parole Board uses a numerical scoring system called the parole guidelines to apply objective criteria to the decision-making process. This tool is designed to reduce disparity in parole decisions and increase parole decision-making efficiency. The factors used in the parole guidelines are set forth in Administrative Rule 791.7716.
During the period between the Parole Board's decision and the prisoner's release, the prisoner's behavior continues to be monitored. If the prisoner becomes involved in misconduct in the prison or the Parole Board becomes aware of other adverse information, the parole may be suspended. Misconduct which occurs after release to parole may result in revocation of parole at the discretion of the Parole Board.
Parole from Past to Present
What is Parole?Parole is defined as a term of community supervision afforded by the Parole Board to a prisoner who has served the minimum portion of his or her sentence, less good time or disciplinary credits if applicable. Under state statute, a prisoner may not be granted parole until the Parole Board has reasonable assurances that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or a risk to the public safety.
While on parole, a parolee is supervised by an agent who is an employee of the Department of Corrections. Upon the successful completion of the parole period, the parolee is “discharged” from his or her sentence. If the parolee violates the parole terms, which includes any standard conditions as well as any special conditions, he or she may be sent back to prison. The Parole Board retains jurisdiction until the maximum sentence is served in prison or the parolee discharges from parole.
The Inception of Parole
Since 1885, there have been a variety of advisory agencies to the Governor in the matters of commutations, pardons and paroles. In 1885, the Advisory Board offered recommendations to the Governor upon applications for commuted sentences, pardons and conditional licenses to go at large (later called parole).
The State Board of Prison Inspectors took over the duties of the Advisory Board in 1891. In 1893, the state returned to the use of the Advisory Board until 1921. A Commissioner of Pardons and Paroles then replaced the Advisory Board in 1921.
In 1922, Governor Alexander Groesbeck created several new state departments. The Department of Public Safety, one of newly created departments, supervised parolees on the street. During the early 1920s, the prison population increased significantly due to new commitments, tightened paroles and an increase in the number of parolees returned for parole violations.
At this time, the Governor's office controlled all paroles and pardons and Governor Groesbeck personally regulated the number of prisoners being released. During his six years as governor, Groesbeck drastically reduced the number of paroles. The parole approval rate of prisoners eligible for parole dropped from an average of 48 percent to 40 percent with a low of 30 percent being reached in 1922. During Grosebeck’s tenure as governor, restrictions on parolees were so stringent that a person could be sent back for almost anything. Governor Groesbeck instructed the Department of Public Safety to return as many parole violators as possible.
Parole Scandal Uncovered
During the 1920s, the granting of parole came under increased scrutiny. Since access to freedom was the biggest gift one could bestow upon a prisoner, parole had become somewhat of a commodity and allegations arose that paroles were being bought and sold. In 1926, a grand jury was convened to investigate the sale of parole. Based on the grand jury’s findings, it was determined that the sale of parole was the biggest business behind prison walls.
Enactment of the Corrections Law
Between 1932 and 1936, the state's prison population steadily declined to a ten-year low. Paroles granted each year during this time exceeded the number of new commitments to prison. However, reforms that occurred in 1937 reversed this pattern. Public Act 255 of 1937, known as the Corrections Law, revised the parole system. The total number of parolees and the percentage of paroles granted to petitioners fell sharply.
The next change in the parole process occurred when the head of the Parole Board insisted that parole be determined according to criteria of the board's making without interference from prison officials. Paroles, always closely controlled by the Governor even after the creation of a Commissioner of Pardons and Paroles, came under the control of the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. He also headed the newly created three-member Parole Board.
The Parole Board was also placed under civil service. The three members served an indefinite term with complete authority to grant or deny parole within limits of sentence. This meant that the promise of release was taken from the Governor's and Wardens’ hands.
A non-political Parole Board was created in which the members could be removed for cause after a hearing before a bi-partisan Corrections Commission.
The Corrections Act also provided for an employment Director to place all inmates recommended for parole in jobs. Additionally, the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles trained a legal investigator to examine the legalities of cases and to advise the Parole Board after his investigation.
Parole in the 1950’s and 1960’s
Access to freedom was the biggest prize that a prisoner could earn and increased access to parole was one of the eleven demands produced by inmates during the 1952 riot at Jackson prison. It stated that "a letter on prison stationery should ask the Parole Board to revise its procedure to give equal treatment to all inmates.”
Notable themes of the 1950s included the full implementation of individual treatment programs linked to parole. The importance of parole as part of an effort to reduce the population increased and a new Parole Camp was built near Jackson prison where inmates spent thirty or more days prior to being released. In April of 1954, a Parole Board Counseling Meeting stressed a new Counselor-Parole Board relationship. Counselors were to be seen as pre-parole preparation staff.
By the 1960s, prisoner treatment programs were increasing in popularity. Effective treatment programs justified early release and helped relieve Michigan's crowded prison system. Well publicized treatment programs such as the pre-parole camp, helped to justify the early release of prisoners to the public. The idea of treatment also substantiated the expanded use of programs.
The changing political and social climate of the 1960s and 1970s began to discredit the treatment model. The system of positive reinforcement operating today was the outgrowth of that model.
A New Era
In 1992, Governor John Engler ordered a reorganization of the Michigan Parole Board which was enacted into law. It consisted of ten full-time, non-civil service employees appointed by the Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC).
In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed executive order 2009-20, which abolished the Michigan Parole Board and established a 15 member Michigan Parole and Commutation Board, consisting of non-Civil Service employees who were appointed by the Governor of the State of Michigan.
In 2011, Governor Rick Snyder signed executive order 2011-03, which abolished the Michigan Parole and Commutation Board and established a 10 member Michigan Parole Board, consisting of non-Civil Service employees who are appointed by the Director of the MDOC. The board members’ backgrounds are varied and include law enforcement, law, corrections and social work.
Although the Parole Board has undergone dramatic changes since its initial inception, the mechanics of the parole process have remained constant for decades. The Parole Board’s purpose and primary priority is to assess parole eligible prisoners to determine whether or not they will become a menace to society or pose a risk to the public safety.
Current Parole Board Process
The Parole Board gains jurisdiction of a case when a prisoner serving a non-life sentence has served his or her minimum sentence, less any good time or disciplinary credits the prisoner may have earned, if applicable. (In most cases the minimum sentence is set by the judge, the maximum by statute.)
The Parole Board is divided into three-member panels. The decision whether to grant or deny parole is made by majority vote of a Parole Board panel. (All cases involving a life sentence must be decided by a majority vote of the full parole board). If the panel denies parole, a date is selected for the next parole board review.
Parole Board members conduct prisoner interviews throughout facilities in Michigan. Each facility visit is for three to four days and a typical interview lasts 15 to 20 minutes.
During the parole interview, the Parole Board questions the prisoner about the nature of their offense(s), whether the prisoner accepts appropriate responsibility for their prior criminal record, their behavior and adjustment while in prison, their participation in programming and their mental health and substance abuse history.
The factors considered by the Parole Board in making parole decisions include:
• crime for which the prisoner is serving,
• prior criminal record,
• institutional behavior and adjustment,
• the parole guidelines score,
• any information obtained from the prisoner interview, and
• information from victims and other relevant sources.
Parole for life sentences is more involved. Public hearings are required by state statute and input from victims, prosecutors and judges are considered. Changes to the law have made prisoners serving life under the drug-lifer law eligible for parole as well. Paroles for life sentences require a vote of the entire parole board. Non-parolable life sentences require commutation by the governor.
Over the past 30 years, averages of 8.2 prisoners per year serving a life sentence have been released through the lifer law or commutation process.
Recently a new law has revised parole eligibility for certain drug offenses. This means that some prisoners may be eligible for parole earlier than previously indicated. Corrections officials are currently identifying which inmates will be eligible for parole under the amended law.
Executive Clemency Process Summary
EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY PROCESS
The Governor's executive clemency authority is derived from Section 14 of Article V of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, which states that the Governor shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons after convictions for all offenses, except cases of impeachment, upon such conditions and limitations as the Governor may direct, subject to procedures and regulations prescribed by law. The Governor shall inform the legislature annually of each reprieve, commutation and pardon granted, stating reasons therefore.
A commutation is defined as the reduction of an individual's sentence to a specified term such that the Michigan Parole Board is given the jurisdiction and authority to determine an individual's parole eligibility. A commutation does not nullify the underlying conviction(s). In contrast, a pardon erases a conviction from an individual's record. The Michigan Supreme Court has held that the effect of a pardon by the Governor is such that it "releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offense." People v. Van Heck, 252 Mich.App. 207, 216; 651 N.W.2d 174, 179 (2002). A pardon is an extraordinary form of relief for someone convicted of a crime and is extremely rare.
As noted in the Constitution, the Governor's clemency authority is "subject to procedures and regulations prescribed by law." These procedures and regulations are contained in Sections 43 and 44 of the Corrections Code of 1953, 1953 PA 232, MCL 791.243 and 791.244. All applications for pardons and commutations must be filed with the Michigan Parole Board ("Board") using forms provided by the Board and must include the information, records, and documents required by the Board. Application forms may be obtained online from the Michigan Department of Corrections website.
Section 44 of the Corrections Code sets forth a detailed framework that must be followed by the Board in considering all applications for pardons and commutations, including those initiated by the Board itself. For example, within 60 days of initiating or receiving such an application, the Board must conduct an initial review to determine whether the application for a pardon or commutation has merit.
The Board has the exclusive statutory duty to transmit its formal recommendation to the Governor as to the merit of an application.
A clemency review may be initiated by an Application for Pardon or Commutation of Sentence submitted by a prisoner or by someone on his or her behalf, or by an Application for Pardon after Parole or Discharge submitted by an individual who has completed his or her sentence. Any clemency reviews other than by application must be initiated by the Board. If denied, an application may be resubmitted two years after the date on which the Board received the previously denied application. Unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances, an application resubmitted before that time will be returned without action. The Board's decision to initiate a commutation review is within the Board's discretion and may include, but not be limited to, circumstances in which a prisoner has a deteriorating and/or terminal medical condition from which he or she is not likely to recover.
Parole Board Process
All clemency applications are forwarded to the Parole Board for review. The Board will conduct an initial review to determine if it has interest in proceeding to a public hearing. If there is not majority interest in doing so, the application and any supporting documentation is simply forwarded to the Governor with the Board's recommendation that the application should be denied. If there is an initial majority interest in considering a public hearing, it triggers a detailed statutory process.
Following the Board's referral of a case to a public hearing, the Board must, by statute, follow certain notification and scheduling requirements. First, the Board must send out notices of the potential public hearing to the sentencing or successor judge and prosecutor, allowing 30 days for their comments and/or objections. At the expiration of that 30-day period, the Board will review any information received and decide whether to remove the case from the public hearing process or proceed to a public hearing. If there is still interest in proceeding to a public hearing, the Board must then provide a 30 day notice of the public hearing to the same judge and prosecutor, the Governor, the Attorney General, all registered victims, and the prisoner/petitioner. The Board will also publish notice of the public hearing on the MDOC website. The Board may receive and review information and comments submitted by crime victims. During that 30 day period, the Board will also commence a parole placement investigation on commutation cases, as well as provide the Attorney General with file materials for review in preparation for the public hearing.
At the public hearing, an Assistant Attorney General, the Board's Chairperson, and any other members of the Board in attendance may question the prisoner or petitioner applicant on all relevant issues. Members of the public, as well as any victim(s) or victim(s)' representative may testify in support of or opposition to the applicant's clemency. The public hearing is recorded and a transcript of the proceeding is completed after the hearing, with a copy submitted to the Attorney General. The case is then referred back to the Board for a final executive meeting where the Board will vote on a recommendation to the Governor, taking into account all information received during the process and the public hearing. After reaching a majority vote, the Board's recommendation and all relevant materials, including the public hearing transcript and other pertinent documents, are delivered to the Office of the Governor.
Final Disposition Process
The Governor and his or her legal staff will review the application materials and the recommendations of the Board to determine whether executive clemency is warranted. The Board will notify the applicant when a final determination is made.
Should the Governor grant a pardon request, the Governor's Office will issue the appropriate pardon documents, file the pardon with the Secretary of State, and notify the Michigan State Police and the applicant. Should the Governor grant a commutation request, thus commuting the prisoner's sentence to a term of years already served, the Board will assume jurisdiction over the case and vote on a parole. All action by the Board in a commutation case must be by majority vote of the 10-member Board. Should the Board by majority vote grant a parole on a commutation case, the parole term would be for a period of four years. Moreover, such a parole release will occur only after a required 28-day notice period, during which the Board will notify the sentencing or successor sentencing judge, prosecutor, and any registered victim(s). However, in the case of a terminally ill prisoner, the Board may seek the consent of the prosecutor, judge, and registered victim(s) to a waiver of both the 30-day notices (for comments/objections and notice of the public hearing) and this 28-day notice of parole release.
Pardon After Probation, Parole or Discharge Application
If you choose to apply for a pardon after probation, parole, or discharge, you should complete this application and submit one copy of it and all supporting documentation to the Parole Board.
Commutation and Pardon Applications and Instructions (CURRENT MICHIGAN PRISONERS ONLY)
If you wish to apply for a pardon or commutation of a sentence while a Michigan prisoner you should complete this application and submit one copy of it and all supporting documentation to the Parole and Commutation Board.