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Survivors of abuse behind bars

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Jacobsen, not surprisingly, disagrees. "Parole boards are obsolete and they should be done away with," she asserted. "They're corrections officers, former police and sheriff officers, for the most part, who have a vested interest in not letting people out, and they function in a very punitive way. Their hearings are very punitive, especially to women who have a history of trauma or abuse, which is at least 80 percent of incarcerated women."

A bigger issue, Jacobsen rightly points out, is the disparity in the number of women the parole board sees versus the number of men. "There are 48,000 men in Michigan prisons, and 2,300 women, so they see everyone as a violent criminal, and they're not," she said. "Very, very few should be removed from society."

Gautz said the board's work load is generally misunderstood by the public, and the positions are not ceremonial. Each board member serves a term of four years.

"Parole board members and parole board staff work tirelessly to prepare cases prior to (an) offender's interview," he stated. "Not only do members interview approximately 1,500 prisoners a month, but they do a host of other duties, such as adding and removing special parole conditions when requested by a field agent, meeting with victims, addressing parole violators that have been returned to prison for revocation processing, and reviewing lifer cases on an ongoing basis."

Tonya Kraus-Phelan, auxiliary dean and tenured professor at Cooley Law School, said that parole boards have a set of criteria to determine who is available for parole, from the crime to what the inmate's conduct has been like in prison, do they have a stable environment to be released into, as well as looking at letters of support and opposition. "Letters written in opposition to release can play a role," notably from the victim's family," she said.

Law students often do not learn the inner workings, or even the function, of parole boards, nor about battered woman syndrome.

Paul Walton, chief deputy at the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, said in Kantzler's case, the prosecutors who worked on her case in 1988 and 1993 have all left the office. But county prosecutors offices do not work on parole cases, other than "we can be an advocate (for the victim) if we don't think they're parolable. We (along with the state) are obligated under the Crime Victims Rights Act to notify members of the victim's family and ask if they want us to object to parole."

Walton explained that the state's attorney governor is the litigant before the parole board and is the one to call witnesses.

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