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Survivors of abuse behind bars

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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Kraus-Phelan also pointed out that over the years there have been judges, like former Judge Norman Lippitt, Kantzler's original judge in her 1988 trial, "who were under the impression that if they gave a life sentence, the defendant would be freed after a certain point, and that didn't turn out to be true. In a majority of cases, there has been a tough on crime attitude that has spilled out onto parole boards. Parole boards will only look at how a crime was committed in the context of if the person could be a risk to society. Will this person be violent? Has this person expressed remorse for their actions?"

A problem during parole for many women who have been abused, Kraus-Phelan pointed out, is that they don't express remorse for their actions, "because they were truly the victim in the relationship."

Walton concurred. "The parole board is often left with a prisoner who is not willing to admit their guilt."

That may have been a problem during parole hearings for Karen Kantzler, who has come before the Michigan Parole Board in 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015, and been denied each time. In 2015, Lippitt and Jacobsen attended and spoke on her behalf, and Howard and Thompson wrote letters on her behalf.

After 30 years in prison, thousands of hours of therapy and dozens of self-improvement classes, Karen Kantzler said, "Looking back, I was abused verbally and physically the whole time...I'm at fault for putting myself in that situation, for having such low self-esteem, such inadequate life skills, that I allowed the manipulation and isolation, and the physical and mental abuse. I allowed that. I put myself in the victim stance, which I know not to do now. I know how to not be a victim now.

"Maybe I was a victim then, but I'm not a victim now."

"You had two judges that may have been coming forward, but it's an administrative body and one that's not elected," Walton noted. "It's a mystery to us, too, the things they find objectionable."

"What you really have is a woman who is behind bars who is taking a bed from somebody who perhaps should be there, and the state is having the privilege of paying for her keep," Judge Barry Howard argued. "That's not justice. That's retribution, and that's drawing a line in the sand to take and to fulfill our mission 'to make society safe.' Well, society would be safe if she was there or not there."

Walton noted that the Oakland County Prosecutor's office filed no opposition to parole for Kantzler in 2015.

Kantzler said she was visited by parole board on March 3, 2017, "which is encouraging because they said they would not see me before November 2019." Kantzler said she was asked if she still needed self-improvement. "I answered I think everyone needs improvement everyday."

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