Some offenders may have fewer parole hearings as a result of legislation signed into law last week.
State Rep. Sarah Lightner sponsored one of the legislation, which offers the state parole board additional flexibility in scheduling parole hearings. Prisoners used to have their parole reviewed every one or two years. For offenders who meet certain requirements about the nature of their offense, the parole board can delay a new hearing for up to five years under the new law.
The laws’ goal is to avoid crime victims from having to testify about their experiences year after year, even if there’s a slim chance the prisoner may be given parole.
“Every year or two, survivors of crimes are compelled to come in and relieve their pain,” said Lightner, R-Springport, in a news release. “With this new rule, we’re allowing victims more time between parole hearings to heal and find the peace of mind they need to go on with their lives.”
In the House, Lightner represents Cambridge Township.
“Every family, in every town, deserves to feel safe at home and in their community,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a statement following the signing of the bill. “Today, I’m delighted to sign two bipartisan bills that put victims first and keep a gang of vicious criminals off the streets.”
According to Lightner’s statement, the legislation was inspired by Randy Gilbert, a man who survived an attack by serial killer Don Miller in the 1970s. Throughout the legislative process, he testified about the pain he goes through every time a parole hearing is held.
Gilbert explained, “I feel like I’ve done a life sentence since I have to endure this over and over.” “Having a five-year gap would be extremely beneficial to victims.” It would offer us more time to live our lives and make plans for the future. I can’t plan forward right now; I have to think day by day: ‘What am I going to do if he’s released?'”
Gilbert recounted a year in his life as a survivor, mentioning that in January 2021, he received a letter informing him that Miller would be up for parole.
This triggered a series of meetings with prosecutors and law enforcement, as well as giving testimony to the parole board and waiting. Miller was denied parole in August, and he learned of it in August. He received another letter in January and began the procedure all over again.
In a statement released by the governor’s office, Gilbert stated, “Today, I am breathing a sigh of relief knowing that my family and many others across Michigan are safe.” “By requiring survivors of heinous atrocities to repeat the worst thing that happened to them year after year, this act assures that they are not retraumatized.” It safeguards communities and families such as mine. I’ve been advocating for this day for a long time, and I’m glad Gov. Whitmer and our legislators were able to make it happen.”
Rep. Angela Witwer, D-Delta Twp., a sponsor and co-sponsor of the bills, stated, “I am relieved to see these laws passed into law, and I hope that victims and their families can rest easier.” “I grew up next door to one of Don Miller’s murder victims. Governor Whitmer did the right thing when he signed these bills before he was up for parole again and before the families were re-victimized and forced to testify.”
The strategy proposed by Lightner and Witwer offers the parole board more leeway in extending the time between when parole is rejected and when the next parole hearing is scheduled.
According to Lightner’s release, when a prisoner is denied parole, the parole board will be able to wait up to five years before performing another review. To do so, a majority of the parole board must believe that the prisoner’s history of predatory, deviant, or violent behavior indicates a risk to public safety that will not be alleviated in the following five years.
Before receiving the governor’s signature, House Bills 4562 and 4563 garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.