Incarceration to rehabilitation: Will Michigan shift its focus?

Michigan may soon update its parole and probation system.

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering a number of proposals that aim to shift the focus of the justice system from one of incarceration to one of rehabilitation. The change is intended to reduce rates of recidivism. One way to achieve this goal outlined in a proposal under consideration involves encouraging those who are currently serving a sentence to learn a trade or take anger management courses.

In addition to preparing those serving sentences for a better transition into the workforce after their sentence is complete, the proposal would also allow for those who participate to earn time off a sentence for good behavior.

More than 20 of the current 52 proposals address changes like these to the state's criminal justice system. Within this group, many focus on reforming the state's probation and parole system.

What is the difference between parole and probation in Michigan?

In order to understand the need for reform, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of the difference between these two legal terms. Parole is defined as the "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." The individual granted parole, referred to as a parolee, is supervised by an agent of the Department of Corrections until the parole period is successfully completed. Violation of the terms of parole can result in a return to prison.

The Michigan Department of Corrections notes that the parole period generally spans from one to four years. Parolee's are also afforded access to certain services as needed. This can include housing and employment as well as substance abuse or mental health counseling. This process is generally supervised by an assigned agent.

Probation, in contrast, is supervised by the court. Probation refers to the "term of supervision afforded either a convicted felon or a convicted misdemeanant by a court as an alternative to prison or jail, although some judges may sentence offenders to a combination of both probation and jail or boot camp."

The proposals for reform noted above are designed to reduce the rate of re-arrest of those who are accused of violating the terms of their parole or probation. Two specific examples within these proposals include the opportunity for certain state supervision periods to be reduced in half for good behavior and programs to reimburse companies that provide employment opportunities for those serving probation or parole.

Will these proposals find success?

So far, the answer appears to be yes - these proposals may find success in Michigan. The Detroit News reports that the Senate recently approved the measure.

What can those facing criminal charges or currently serving a sentence for a crime learn from these proposals?

These proposals are an example of the evolving nature of the criminal justice system in Michigan. Since the system is always changing, it is wise to have legal counsel on your side. Having an attorney can help you to stay abreast of changes in the law and how these changes could impact your charges or sentence.