Editor correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly indicated that the Michigan prosecutor was considering releasing all 90 convicted murderers who are serving life sentences without parole.
Upon further review, that county prosecutor is reviewing the cases of 90 convicted murderers. She’s since indicated to a local newspaper that only a few inmates are likely to be recommended for release.
It’s also worth noting that in Michigan, the only way an inmate’s sentence can be commuted is by the governor upon the recommendation for release by the state parole board.
Michigan – Everywhere you turn, headlines scream about criminal justice “reform” and the need to change how we prosecute and punish people who break the law. But instead of moving toward positive change in the name of law and order, in some cases we’re essentially just redefining what constitutes an actual crime.
And this story out of Michigan is no different.
According to the Lansing City Pulse, Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon is reviewing some cases in a move that would reduce her community’s local prison.
And it’s starting with reviewing cases of convicted murderers who are currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“While I personally believe there are some people who should be in prison forever, like the Jeffrey Dahmer type of people, I just don’t believe in the death penalty,” Siemon says.
“I think life in prison without parole functions in a similar way, and I think everyone should have an opportunity to be able to get out some day.”
So now she’s reviewing them to consider recommendations to the parole board and governor to potentially commute the sentences of some of them.
Reports said that with the help of former Assistant Attorney General Ron Emery, Siemon will begin a review of 90 inmates convicted of murder and sentenced to life behind bars.
Critics are losing their minds. And for good reason. Because it’s not about guilt, Siemon says – it’s about progression and a potential change in character.
“It’s not whether or not they’re innocent,” Siemon said in an interview. “We’re not saying that. But if they committed a homicide 40 years ago, who are they now? And do they deserve another chance? To my knowledge, nobody else is doing this type of thing in the state. It has just been something rolling around in my head.”
The City Pulse said that Michigan only sentences criminals to life in prison without parole if they have been convicted of first-degree murder or using explosives that caused bodily injury.
So essentially, the most heinous of crimes are given punishment to match.
Siemon has been on this mission since she first took office in 2017. Since then, she’s created policies that give defendants a chance to plead guilty to a lesser sentence – providing options for less jail time and less overall punishment for their crimes.
Key issues facing Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon these days, including the latest justice reform report, fraud with state DUI breathalyzers and Fed immigration issues. She's next to tackle all of these w/Dave on The Morning Wake Up @1320WILS pic.twitter.com/l0Ixdpl0id
— Dave Akerly (@DaveAkerlyOnAir) January 15, 2020
Siemon says that everyone deserves a second chance at freedom.
“I just don’t like to exclude the possibility that someone can be rehabilitated,” Siemon said.
“Families don’t always like it, and it can be very unpleasant — especially with victims’ families — but these people deserve it. Some don’t like that we offer it. We take those views into account, but it doesn’t mean they drive the decision.”
According to other state officials within the justice system, it’s not that easy. And not everyone deserves second or third chances.
“Can they be rehabilitated? Maybe they can. But look at some of these cases where they put a gun to someone’s face and pull the trigger: Why should we take the chance?
There’s not much you can do that is more personal than taking a human life,” said Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney David Gilbert. “That’s why we have these charges. We like to let the jury decide.”
Leelanau County Prosecutor Doug Donaldson said there’s no such thing as an absolute truth in the field of criminal justice.
“One never says ‘never’ or ‘always’ in our profession,” said Donaldson.
“That automatically ties your hands. And there are some out there that probably do deserve life in prison without parole. If the crime is cold and calculated, the concept of rehabilitation can essentially be a non-starter.”
Why should every murderer be allowed to serve a shorter sentence just simply in the name of “progression”? How is this bettering our communities?
Not to mention, the reduced sentences allow criminals to see that committing a crime would eventually allow them to be released back into the community – no matter how heinous.
Well, Siemon: what about the rights and safety of the people on the outside? What protection are you providing for them if you’re about to release murderers back onto the streets? Not to mention the police officers you put in danger by not only allowing – but pushing for this to happen?
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Siemon defended her stance.
“When you’re a progressive prosecutor, you have people who will say things like ‘You hug thugs,’ or ‘You don’t care about victims.’ That’s not true. I care about the process being fair. We’ve learned that locking people up for a long time doesn’t always make the community more safe. It doesn’t serve a purpose other than vengeance.”
So, keeping bad people behind bars makes the community more dangerous? Get real.
Siemon plans to dive back all the way to life sentences that were issued since 1975. She’ll take the prisoner’s behavior and commitment to rehabilitation into account before asking for a gubernatorial commutation of the sentences.
“The main question is whether we can truly feel they’ve been rehabilitated,” Siemon said.
The prosecutor thinks all those years behind bars have changed the core of the inmate, in many cases.
“The severity of the crime used to be the only thing we really looked at,” Siemon said.
“If someone committed a crime 20 years ago, however, that tells me who they were then. It’s not always who they still are now. I’ll make these decisions based on my own criteria, but it’s really all going to be about asking: Who are they now?”
Siemon is set to run for office again without a direct competitor to step in and lay down the law.
“My promise when I ran in 2016 was that I will always try to do the right thing, no matter the fallout. That certainly has not changed,” Siemon said.
“I endeavor to do what research and justice require — not what might make me more popular. I admire my fellow Michigan prosecutors even when we don’t always agree.”
To the good, law-abiding residents of Ingham County – we sincerely wish you good luck.