At least two states made changes to parole in 2018. In January, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 1607 into law, which altered the parameters of parole supervision for people deemed not to be a high risk, requiring just a single phone check-in per month rather than more burdensome in-person meetings.Illinois SB 1607 (2017). See also “Governor Signs Senate Bill 1607,” WRUL, January 9, 2018.
The measure comes after the settlement of a 2013 lawsuit challenging the state’s parole revocation process, in which people whose parole had been revoked alleged that parole terms were onerous, they were not given the opportunity to challenge the revocations, and that revocations were frequently issued when they had not violated their parole terms.Morales v. Monreal, No. 13-C-7527 (N.D. Ill.) (filed October 22, 2013). For a summary of the settlement, see Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, “Illinois Agrees to Reform of Parole Revocation Process; Landmark Settlement Will Provide Attorneys to Parolees Unable to Afford Legal Counsel in Revocation Hearings,” press release (Chicago: Northwestern University, January 25, 2017).
In Michigan, a new law requires parole boards to use an objective standard for release, rating people’s likelihood of recidivism and risk to the community based on a set of factors that include, among other things, an individual’s current sentence, criminal record, institutional conduct, and completion of required programming while incarcerated.Michigan HB 5377 (2018). Previously, parole boards had been able to override a “low risk” score and deny release for “substantial and compelling reasons”—and often did so with little explanation beyond subjective opinions such as “lacks empathy.”Kim Buddin, “Providing Safe, Secure, Objective Parole for Low Risk Prisoners,” ACLU of Michigan, October 1, 2018. Under that standard, the number of people eligible for, but denied, parole nearly tripled between 1991 and 2006 and, by 2017, nearly half of all parole cases were being denied.Kim Buddin, “Providing Safe, Secure, Objective Parole for Low Risk Prisoners,” ACLU of Michigan, October 1, 2018; and Michigan Department of Corrections, “Parole Board Decisions Report—October 2017.” The board is now permitted to apply the “substantial and compelling reasons” standard only to people who exhibit certain statutorily-specified behaviors that indicate the potential for immediate risks to public safety if they are not incarcerated, such as having made verifiable threats.Michigan HB 5377 (2018).