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Survivors of abuse behind bars

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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According to the Michigan Constitution, "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."

According to Carol Jacobsen of the Women's Justice and Clemency Project, of the last three gubernatorial administrations, only Jennifer Granholm granted any clemencies a total of 10 over eight years.

"Gov. John Engler, although his office made some overtures to granting some releases, he didn't, and he denied the clemencies we submitted with the speed of light," Jacobsen said. "Gov. Granholm granted 10 clemencies total to women who had been convicted of murder and given life sentences, plus she pushed the parole board to release four more women who had life sentences.

"As for Gov. Snyder, we have submitted clemency petitions for 12 women, and we are waiting to hear. We have been submitting to him every two years. You have to have all new petitions (every two years) for each woman." She said they have succeeded in freeing nine women from life sentences over the last 25 years.

According to Anna Heaton, spokesperson for Snyder, "Gov. Snyder considers pardons on a rolling basis (as they are received) but we don't comment on particular cases."

All actions by the governor must be finalized and approved by the 10-member Parole Board, which is appointed by the director of the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). According to Chris Gautz, public information office for MDOC, "There is a balance between MDOC staff and outside appointees (for board members). The MDOC cannot have any more than six members on the board at one time. Right now, the makeup is five MDOC and five non-MDOC members."

The current parole system was created in 1885 as an advisory agency to the governor. The State Board of Prison Inspectors took over the duties in 1891, and then from 1893 to 1921, the state resumed control. Since 1937, when the Corrections Law revised the parole system, it became a civil service job that was a non-political board.

"Although the parole board has undergone dramatic changes since its initial inception, the mechanics of the parole process have remained constant for decades," noted the Michigan Department of Corrections. "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."

As to the composition of who is on the board, "There isn't a preference for specific backgrounds (law, enforcement, prosecutors, etc.)," Gautz said, "but the goal is to have a diverse board, including diverse backgrounds. The appointments are absolutely not political favors."

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